Classical CD Reviews

VILLA-LOBOS: Bachianas Brasileiras (Complete) – Rosana Lamosa, soprano/Kenneth Schermerhorn, conductor/Nashville Symphony Orchestra – Naxos (3 CDs)

Melodic and exotic orchestral sounds from Brazil's greatest composer

Published on December 5, 2005

VILLA-LOBOS: Bachianas Brasileiras (Complete) – Rosana Lamosa, soprano/Kenneth Schermerhorn, conductor/Nashville Symphony Orchestra – Naxos (3 CDs)
VILLA-LOBOS: Bachianas Brasileiras (Complete) – Rosana Lamosa,
soprano/Kenneth Schermerhorn (conductor)/Nashville Symphony Orchestra -
Naxos 8.557460-62 – Disc 1: Nos. 1-3 (73:10); Disc 2: Nos. 4-6 (40:42);
Disc 3: Nos. 7-9 (62:22) ***:

For those who love the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos, this compilation
will be welcome. There haven’t been many complete editions of Bachianas
Brasileiras, only selections discs like one put out by RCA Victor in
1996 conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Schermerhorn is a decent
conductor and doesn’t interpret these pieces as much as play them
straight, with the lyricism and playfulness the text requires. However,
if your only acquaintance with these pieces is No. 5 with its striking
yet over-performed vocalise–my first recording was by Joan Baez–then
you should be aware of certain things.

First, unlike Villa-Lobos’ Choros pieces, this series has neither
development nor coherence. There is only the slight hint, in the last
three pieces, that the composer is progressing in technical and emotive
skills. Often there is less here than meets the ear. Nos. 1 & 2 are
tame experiments in blending traces of Brazilian folk tunes with
Bachian counterpoint. They are also, and Villa-Lobos would be the first
to admit it, attempts to cash in on the neo-classical craze of the
twenties and thirties. Norman Lebrecht has called No. 1 “primitive
minimalism” and he is not far off in that assessment. No. 2 for chamber
orchestra ventures into hokey territory with its train toccata (“The
Peasant’s Little Train”). The series picks up slightly in No. 3, a
piano concerto, but its toccata also contains faux-naive folk elements
like woodpecker sounds. Don’t get me wrong. This is perfectly adequate,
occasionally charming music: its lack of jarring moments or impolitic
dissonance qualifies it for suitable dinner music. No. 5 is, of course,
the series’ centerpiece and this recording doesn’t disappoint. Soprano
Rosana Lamosa, although heavier on the vibrato than Renée Fleming,
sings with poignancy and drama. Villa-Lobos expanded the vocal section
in 1945 to include two gushy poems that are effective and strongly sung.
 
Lively and often witty, No. 7 for orchestra treats listeners to a
“Country Quadrille” in its giga and odd melorhythms in its “Joust”
tocccata. (He spices it up with startling brass figures.) Written in
grandiose style for the ages, it’s actually firmly rooted it its own
time. Its preludio sounds like opening credits music for a 40′s
Hollywood melodrama. No. 8 for orchestra has some strong moments, such
as its aria and toccata, but it does meander with its fugue. No. 9
opens with a sentimental prelude that the composer labels “mistico.”
The concluding fugue would be an excellent teaching tool for
high-schoolers. Be prepared for this set. Depending on your musical
proclivities, it may or may not astound, startle, tickle, or disturb
you.

[If on the other hand you are a fan of Villa-Lobos’ tame experiments,
you might want to check out the multi-disc set on EMI of Villa-Lobos
conducting Villa-Lobos.  It includes many other works and though
mono is in surprisingly good sound with a fascinating note
booklet...Ed.]

- Peter Bates
 




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