VILLA-LOBOS: Bachianas Brasilieras Nos. 1, 2, 3 & 5; Fantasia; Concerto for Guitar and Orch.; Momoprecoce Fantasy; String Quartet No. 6 – various perf. – EMI (2 CDs)

by | Sep 29, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

VILLA-LOBOS: Bachianas Brasilieras No. 1; Bachianas Brasilieras No. 2; Bachianas Brasilieras No. 3; Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5; Fantasia for Soprano Saxophone and Chamber Orchestra; Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra; Momoprecoce Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra; String Quartet No. 6 in E Minor – John Harle, saxophone/ Angel Romero, guitar/ Cristina Ortiz, piano (Momoprecoce)/ Hungarian String Quartet/ Jorge Federico Osorio, piano (Bachianas Brasilieras No. 3)/ Victoria de los Angeles, soprano/ Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/ Neville Marriner/ London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Jesus Lopez-Cobos/ New Philharmonia Orchestra/ Vladimir Ashkenazy/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Enrique Batiz/ Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise/ Heitor Villa-Lobos – EMI Classics 0 94703 2 (2 CDs), 77:15; 77:57 ****:
Among the various sets devoted to “20th Century Classics” from EMI, this collection of assembled performances 1955-1990 certainly captures the essential character of Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), the cosmopolitan Brazilian composer whose love of Bach and national color combined in miraculous alchemy. For saxophonist Marcel Mule, Villa-Lobos composed a concerto (1948) that John Harle and Neville Marriner (rec. 3-5 December 1990) realize with plastic and airy affection. So, too, do Angel Romero and Jesus Lopez-Cobos (6-7 March 1984) collaborate for the lovely Guitar Concerto written for Andres Segovia. The second movement features an extended cadenza that hypnotizes while it sings. The sunshine of the late 1920s Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, “Momoprecoce,” derives from its origin as a children’s carnival suite, deftly executed in gorgeous colors and samba rhythm by Cristina Ortiz and Vladimir Ashkenazy between 13 September 1976 and 1 February 1977. The Hungarian String Quartet, with its leader, violinist Zoltan Szekely, performs (22-27 July 1955) the energetic, buoyant Sixth String Quartet, whose Andante moto provides a tragic contrast with an otherwise upbeat work from 1938.
An abiding sound remains after one has listened to the ubiquitous Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 for Soprano and Eight Cellos (rec. 7-13 June 1956) with Victoria de los Angeles and the composer, as if each of Villa-Lobos’ works were either a preamble or epilogue to its Aria and Danca. For many of us, the original inscription with Bidu Sayao and the cellos under Leonard Rose remains indelible. The Embolada that opens the 1930 Bachianas Brasilieras No. 1 serves simultaneously as a suave Introduction for eight cellos; recall the work is dedicated to another Bach enthusiast: Pablo Casals. A beguiling Mondinha serenade ensues whose restless harmonies become an equivalent to a Latin’s version of Tristan. The Conversa (Fuga) embodies a stylized syncopated moment of Bach counterpoint in flavors that well transcend any academic interest in antique forms. Saxophone and piano obbligato accompany the small orchestra for Bachianas Brasilieras No. 2 from 1930, and the result has a bluesy effect in opening Preludio that soon turns samba. The “Song of the Country” features effective saxophone and cello solo writing, the latter another tribute to both Casals and Villa-Lobos’ own instrument.   Virtuosic wind and horn glissandi mark the spirited romp, Danca, “Memory of the Desert.” The “Toccata” Little Train of the Caipira becomes a kaleidoscopic tone-poem, on a par with Honegger’s Pacific 231. The Bachianas Brasilieras No. 3 (1938) forms a four-movement piano concerto, here (10-13 August 1986) performed with admirably flexible authority by Jorge Federico Osorio and conductor Enrique Batiz. The lovely aria (Modinha) achieves a noble peroration and some galloping figures in the Liszt manner, while the Toccata (Picapau) pictures an ardent woodpecker. The blazing coda makes a grand finale, assuming my having played Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 for myself first, for a set infinitely rich in “international” colors, a perfect fusion of native Brazil and music’s highest expression of ideal form in music via Bach.
—Gary Lemco

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