This appositely chosen selection covers much
of the span of Villa-Lobos’s composing life. It also reflects
the high standards we have come to expect of this orchestra and
conductor – and of the record label itself – in this kind of repertoire.
Wagner’s affinity for Villa-Lobos, in fact, seems every bit as
pointed and energised, as was his enthusiasm for Ginastera, the
most recent of the Odense-Bridge hook-ups that I’ve reviewed here.
The success of both discs is greatly to the credit of all the
Uirapurú was composed in 1917 and employs
a large percussion section and also includes that rara avis, a
Violinophone. This was a single string offshoot of the hilariously
practical Stroh Violin, so beloved of acoustic age fiddlers and
recording studios, that directed the sound of the violin toward
the recording horn via its own attached resonating horn. Imagine
a fiddle with a mini gramophone horn attached and you’ll have
the idea. The Amazonian myth Villa-Lobos evokes gives plenty of
scope for colour and drama, but never of the unstructured or merely
pictorial kind. The work opens ominously, impressionistically,
its flute sonorities themselves evoking French impressionism;
whilst the motoric trombone inflected drive adds spine and theatre
to the score. There is plangency and – unavoidable word with Villa-Lobos
but here goes anyway - exoticism as well as exceptionally clever
binary oppositions, timbrally, as he pitches registral extremes
against each other. The slashing, eerie violins and the lyrical
winding down accompanied by punchy trumpets are all part of the
rich patina of Villa-Lobos’s colouristic but poetic imagination.
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 exists in an original
piano version; the piano composition was written in the 1930s
and orchestrated in the early 1940s. This tribute to Bach is entirely
consonant with Villa-Lobos’s taste for lyricism and extended drama
and is a richly noble creation. The Preludio first movement has
a luxurious gravity – if anyone can pull off luxurious gravity
it’s Villa-Lobos – and the Coral, Canto do Sertão second
movement is suffused with sweet lyricism. Sertão means
"backlands" and this movement is accompanied by the
high cry of the blacksmith bird – a repeated ‘plink’ in the orchestra
- and as the movement unfolds so it grows incrementally in animation.
The Aria has a solemn, hymnal tread, exploding once in an eruption
of power before it returns to the initial material (but note the
instrumentation of that trio disquiet; trumpet and clarinet).
The work ends with a toccata of driving animation, one that manages
to insinuate the colour and vegetative life of Villa-Lobos’s own
continent into Bach’s more austere drama.
We end with The Emperor Jones, written towards
the end of his life, when Villa-Lobos was sixty-nine. It’s based
on the Eugene O’Neill play and the compositional fires haven’t
at all slaked, not least in the Heart of Darkness evocation, set
as it is in the literal and metaphorical jungle that is the play’s
locus. The multi-variegated orchestration is at once colourful,
saturated, brittle, heavily rhythmic, laced with ostinati, swooning
strings, sweat drenched drama and panic and touched by a wordless
soprano song of ominous delicacy. A short single-act Ballet, it
triumphantly affirms Villa-Lobos’s transfusive qualities in orchestral
music and makes a fitting climax to an altogether splendid disc.