twelve symphonies of Villa-Lobos date from 1916-57 with a gap
of twenty-four years between his first five and the remaining
seven. Biographer Vasco Mariz dismisses these works as somewhat
undistinguished. That comes as a great surprise to these ears
given the enormous variety of color, the driving and captivating
rhythms and the orchestrational skills that are exhibited in
the present example. It is significant, however that a composer
who was not given to the rules of formal structure and was abhorrent
of “absolute” music would put forth the effort to compose twelve
symphonies, the antithesis of program music.
aren’t we glad he did! This is music as complex as it is listenable.
Villa-Lobos is clearly influenced by his French contemporaries,
who were unquestionably the most adventurous and skillful in
the art of orchestration during the first half of the twentieth
century. They brought the art to its apex, only to have it destroyed
by the chaotic aftermath of the Second World War. The composer
himself admitted to writing his first five symphonies in the
style of Vincent D’Indy, albeit without the influence of folk
is a work abundant in color. It holds the ear from beginning
to end, and the subtle juxtaposition French orchestral color
with the dance rhythms of South America is not only captivating,
but makes perfect musical logic. At times raucous and at others
completely serene, this is music of the city, teeming with an
endless variety of personalities.
sticks with traditional harmonies in the main, but occasionally
lets loose with delicious polytonalities, giving the work a
rather offbeat sense of humor and no small hint of film music.
The composer definitely sets out to create a series of moods,
and he unfailingly succeeds. The work is substantial but never
seems tiresome or overwrought. Villa-Lobos had plenty to say,
and he said it with a deftness and economy of means that would
rival fine fiction.
Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart of the Southwestern Radio
(goodness, could we not come up with a less complicated name?)
plays with great gusto under Carl St. Clair, reveling in the
music’s inventive twists and turns. The playing has a youthful
freshness that is invigorating coupled with a professionalism
that provides much precision and finesse.
program is rounded out by a fascinating little piece originally
composed for piano. The New York Skyline Melody came
about by means of a curious technique. The composer would often
plot the contours of a city’s skyline onto graph paper, using
the resulting picture as the basis for his melodic construction.
This was perhaps an interesting pastime, but one that does not
necessarily lend itself to well-structured tunes. This is an
interesting little curiosity, but not particularly substantial.
are to be thanked for their incessant dedication to bringing
interesting and unusual music to the public. As usual, the production
values are of the first order. Saints be praised that the editors
refrained from the verbose and often obtuse dissertations that
often accompany releases on this label.
by Patrick Waller