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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
String Quartets: Volume 3
String Quartet No. 7 (1942)
String Quartet No. 15 (1954)
Latin American Quartet
Recorded Mexico City, September 1996
DORIAN DOR 90246 [53.35]

Admiration undimmed for these inventive, life-enhancing works we now reach Volume 3. The Seventh (1942) is the longest of all Villa-Lobos’s quartets and shows him at his finest. Melodies both confident and yielding run throughout the opening movement. Rhythmically, what a master he was. The rhythm is both sinuous and seamless, the slower sections integrated without a bump, and there’s a glorious melody for viola (maybe Javier Montiel could have sung out just a bit more) that warms the heart. In the Andante it’s the turn of the composer’s own instrument, the cello, to sing. This is a contemplative, slightly insistent movement, free-moving and then interrupted by a piu mosso section that features some folk song melodies. But with Villa-Lobos expressive depth is always around the corner as it is here. The Scherzo is a jocular, folksy one with another good opportunity for the cellist to be strong, leonine and commanding; as ever pizzicati enliven a Scherzo but lest I give the impression that this is formulaic and predictable writing I should say that Villa-Lobos’s technical powers are exceptionally strong and the myriad expressive nuances at his disposal are employed in ways ever more various. There’s no boredom in a Villa-Lobos quartet; these are some of the most complete and satisfying works in the twentieth century canon and the decisively confident Allegro conclusion to the 7th shows it. Dramatic and forward-moving, themes pile up like a car smash – and the amazing thing is the fluidity and clarity of the lyricism that still emerges. There is some demanding writing – and listening too – but there are also graceful dancing and consolatory moments as well. A lyrically incisive and triumphant conclusion rounds things off.

Try the opening of the Fifteenth for an arresting chordal call to arms. This is a very concise work – the Scherzo doesn’t even last two minutes – but there’s plenty of incident, from the bristly fugato and neo-classicism of the opening movement to the muted strings of the second. Here a spectral, mordant air is generated and the atmosphere is palpable and developed with the most devastatingly decisive of instrumental means. Try this to appreciate just what Villa-Lobos can do. That sliver of a Scherzo vanishes with a dramatic blink and the concluding Allegro finale is generous in character even if it does indulge some fugal development. In its slimness and its concision this is a notably successful work. As ever documentation, performances and sound quality – for the third volume recording locations have moved from Troy, New York to Mexico City – are first class.

Jonathan Woolf

Other reviews
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5
Volume 6


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