> VILLA-LOBOS Forest of the Amazon DE1037 [JQ]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Forest of the Amazon

Renee Fleming (soprano)
Chorus of the Moscow Physics and Engineering Institute
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Alfred Heller
Recorded Nov Ė Dec 1994 and April 1995 in Studio 5, State House for Broadcasting and Recording, Moscow
DELOS DE 1037 [74.05]


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This CD contains a most unusual piece!

The symphonic poem, Forest of the Amazon, is one of Villa-Lobosís very last works and was composed in late 1958 and early 1959. The music was originally written for the Hollywood film, Green Mansions, which starred Audrey Hepburn. However, in the end little of the music seems to have been used in the (unsuccessful) movie and the composer recycled it into the present work.

The conductor, Alfred Heller, a protégé of Villa-Lobos, has supplied a detailed liner note about the background to this extraordinary work which here receives its first complete recording. It is scored for what sounds like an extremely large orchestra which, characteristically, includes lots of exotic percussion instruments. Forest of the Amazon also requires a male chorus, apparently representing Amerindians (I find it difficult to tell what they are singing; no texts of the chorus parts are provided and, in fact, it may be that their íwordsí are a deliberately meaningless chant.) The other performer is a soprano soloist who sings four songs in Portuguese (for which texts and translations are provided). The soloist is none other than Renee Fleming in what must have been one of her earliest recordings.

The music is typically prolix and the orchestration vividly coloured. Indeed, the music put me in mind of a word Iíve often seen and heard used of the Amazon rain forests: "teeming". However, even after several hearings Iím still not sure what to make of it all. Although the work is described as a symphonic poem I canít really discern any symphonic structure; rather, the work sounds like a succession of short, unrelated movements (there are twenty in all). I must say that, as an adaptation of film music into symphonic music, Forest of the Amazon doesnít seem to me to be anywhere near as successful as Vaughan Williamsí Sinfonia Antartica. I suspect I would have found this episodic music easier to follow and appreciate if there had been a track-by-track narrative description in the notes. Unfortunately, this is absent though the notes are excellent on the subject of the workís origins. As it is, Hellerís notes imply that the music follows fairly closely the plot of Green Mansions but few listeners will have any knowledge of this now-forgotten film.

I have to say that I think that the work is over-long in relation to the strength of the musical material. It contains some interesting moments but the musical invention doesnít seem to me to be capable of sustaining a 74-minute time span. Judicious pruning of, say, 20 minutes would have helped and it might have been better still if Villa-Lobos had condensed his score into one or two suites, each lasting 20 to 25 minutes.

The Moscow orchestra play what must have been very unfamiliar music efficiently and Renee Fleming sings with her usual refulgent tone. The last piece she sings, ĎSentimental Melodyí (track 18) will particularly delight her many admirers Ė of whom I am one. The menís chorus seem to add little to the proceedings and I think their music would have been a prime candidate for the editorís pencil. Clearly, this project has been a labour of love for Alfred Heller and he seems to conduct with spirit.

A minor Russian label originally issued the recording and this reissue by Delos should bring it to wider attention. Ultimately, however, I suspect this CD will be of greatest appeal to devotees of Villa-Lobosís music who should snap up this rarity while it remains available.

John Quinn

See also review by Rob Barnett

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