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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Symphony No. 4 Victoria (1919)
Cello Concerto No. 2 (1953)
Amazonas (1917)
Andrés Días (cello)
Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela/Enrique Arturo Diemecke
Recorded: Caracas, July and August 1995
DORIAN DOR 90228 [66.06]


In an admirably well-chosen disc, scintillatingly played, we meet Villa-Lobos in all his multifarious colour. He wrote twelve symphonies between 1916 and 1957 and of these Nos. 3, 4 and 5 were conceived as a cycle charting the ideas of war, victory and peace. As its subtitle suggests No. 4, written in 1919, takes Victory as its theme and Villa-Lobos uses big and powerful orchestration to make his point. A fanfare section – a brass band within a band – is also employed, as are extra woodwind and percussion sections. Villa-Lobos had sought to integrate Franco-Russian affiliations into his scores and these are certainly discernable – but so is his considerable individuality of utterance when it comes to orchestral power and colour. The Symphony for example opens with strident brass and ominous cymbals, inherently insistent and dramatic, allowing some swirling melodies for the strings redolent of the noblest of despair. By the time we arrive at the diaphanous little Andantino, which quotes La Marseillaise, the brass have assumed a rather hieratic, antiphonal status and the music has developed to embrace songfulness after the troubled dark night of the soul in the opening movement. Where Villa-Lobos most impresses however is where his instrumentation thins, where concision is at its tightest and that’s in the slow movement. The subtle funereal tread of the Andante and its embracing of French impressionism – an elegy of excellently judged purpose, scored with apposite seriousness. The finale contains reminiscences of other movements and its scoring is jubilantly and expressively rich. The brass continues its journey from darkness to light, here being drenched in cathartic effulgence. The winds are chirpy, the instrumentation rich and lots of (perhaps over-) scored vibrancy colours the movement from within.

Amazonas (1917) one of his best-known ballet scores derives from the 1916 tone poem Miremis. Only eleven minutes long this is nevertheless a quintessential slice of Villa-Lobos exotica, vibrant, colourful, bursting with originality and piquant instrumental juxtapositions. He uses a big, augmented orchestra once again and lavishes a wealth of evocative sounds upon it. From the ominous undertow of the first bars we are gripped by a sense of place, of texture, heat, smell and birdsong. The rhythmic chirping, the hot-house and haze, the bristle and burnish are all gloriously evident and magnificently so in this performance. The occasional eruptions from the trombones add theatre and incident to a score already packed with colourful felicities. The final work on the disc is the much later Second Cello Concerto. It was written for Aldo Parisot, dedicatee and first performer; he also made the first recording. The orchestration is very much sparer here and Villa-Lobos exploits moments of technical demand and lyrical reflection for the soloist. The work in fact opens with a kind of ruminative quasi-cadenza for the cellist, Andrés Días, who copes admirably with all demands. The slow movement is a particular high-point in this recording – an effortlessly unfolding cantilena whose Bachian affiliations are never subdued. The dancing Scherzo, incisive and vocalised, enshrines a virtuosic cadenza, full of dramatic glissandi. The Concerto ends with vibrant and rhythmic surety and there’s plenty of local colour along the way as the cello protagonist steers triumphantly to the final coda.

Soloist, orchestra and conductor sound in one, affirmative accord and Dorian’s recording is splendidly spacious. This is a genuinely accomplished contribution to Villa-Lobos on disc.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Len Mullenger


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