> Heitor Villa-Lobos [TB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Sexteto Mistico
Two Choros bis
Choros No. 7
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9
BBC Singers
Odaline de la Martinez
Rec 1992, St Silas Church, London NW5
LONTANO LNT 102 [56.05]


Villa-Lobos is an enterprising, intriguing and entertaining composer, and it is always worth exploring his repertoire beyond the handful of pieces which have infiltrated the international repertory.

This enterprising and highly appealing disc confirms all this and more. It is entitled 'Chamber and Choral Music', and this rather odd combination is indeed what the programme contains. For example, the Quatuor of 1921 is really no such thing, since it is scored for the unusual combination of flute, alto saxophone, celesta, harp and female voices. But no matter, since the sound-world (as elsewhere on the disc) is itself full of interest, the ensemble working with the utmost imagination as the musical ideas develop.

Villa-Lobos was always inclined to make nationalist ideas the focus of his music, and the various Choros are further examples of this. The Choro is 'a popular urban type of music used by street serenaders in Rio de Janeiro'. But the composer himself was even more specific, claiming the music as 'representing a new form of musical composition, synthesising different kinds of Brazilian Indian and folk music, having as their principal elements rhythm and all kinds of typical folk melody that appear accidentally from time to time, always transformed by the personality of the composer'. These thoughts are put to the proof in two highly imaginative pieces featured here: the Two Choros bis of 1928, scored only for violin and cello, and the Choros No. 7 composed four years previously.

The former employs just the violin and the cello, creating some remarkable sonorities and rivals Ravel's famous Duo as a masterpiece in this unlikely genre. The latter is more diversely scored, with flute, oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone, bassoon, violin, cello and tam-tam. And it is every inch as entertaining as that extraordinary instrumentation would indicate; nor is it merely a series of effects. Likewise the early Sextet (flute, oboe, saxophone, celesta, harp and guitar), from 1917, reveals the composer's obsession with unusual sonorities and effective combinations of instruments. In all this music Odaline de la Martinez secures distinguished playing from her chamber ensemble, Lontano.

Probably the best known of Villa-Lobos's compositions are the Bachianas Brasileiras, but even these pieces are not so familiar, particularly when they exist, as does No. 9 in the series, in various different versions. The original score of 1945 was for an 'orchestra' of wordless voices, but the music was later rescored for strings. It is the original version which is found here, performed with consummate skill by the BBC Singers. In both the slow-moving, mysterious prelude and the lively succeeding fugue, the music makes an hypnotic effect, aided by an atmospheric recording and the helpful acoustic of St Silas Church, Kentish Town. With helpful booklet notes to introduce this unfamiliar music, this CD does Villa-Lobos a real service.

Terry Barfoot

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