VILLA -LOBOS: Piano Trios 1, 2, and 3; FERNANDEZ: Trio Brasileiro – Damocles Trio – Claves 50-2916/17, 60:02, 54:17 [Distr. by Albany] ***:
When one mentions the art music of Brazil, Heitor Villa-Lobos is the composer that most people would identify. He wrote over 2000 compositions, which makes him one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His music is an amalgam of popular and native South American folk songs and modernistic European techniques. He spent his early years (1906-13) traveling through Brazil, listening to the indigenous music of his country, and then in 1923 went to Paris to study European art music. As program annotator Etienne Barilier points out, his earlier compositions reflect the European tradition, and, once he went to Paris, he initiated the Brazilian based works that made him unique and famous.
The first two Piano Trios on this disc reflect the European musical influences on Villa Lobos. Piano Trio No. 1 has elements of Brahms, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. The beautiful and melancholic andante is the most memorable movement. The Second Piano Trio is impressionistic (Debussy) with shorter melodies, and quick tempo changes. The lovely Berceuse is meditatively introspective. These are tuneful, delightful, and above all romantic works of a young composer in his mid 20s who has yet to find a distinctive personal style.
By the time he wrote his Third Piano Trio (1918), Villa Lobos was 31, and he had begun the process of integrating his Brazilian heritage with European classical techniques. The first movement contains classic Brazilian folk tunes and astringently motivic development, typical of twentieth century music. A lyrical lazy second movement is followed by two movements of Brazilian modernity – severe rhythms, melismas, mystery and a vibrant energy that announce the beginning of this composers maturity. This is the most musically interesting work on the disc.
Lorenzo Fernandez (1897-1948) was born ten years after Villa Lobos and was also first influenced by the European classics and then by his Brazilian heritage. Trio Brasileiro (1924) is filled with ingratiating folk themes without the complexity of Villa Lobos compositions. The Damocles Trio performs all these works with panache and style and the recording is superb.
— Robert Moon