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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
String Quartets: Volume 2
String Quartet No. 3 (1916)
String Quartet No. 8 (1944)
String Quartet No. 14 (1953)
Latin American Quartet
Recorded Troy, New York, 1995
DORIAN DOR 90220 [65.41]

Volume Two in the Latin American Quartet’s complete cycle of the Villa-Lobos Quartets picks up theme of inter-relatedness instigated by the opener. Once again an early part of the canon shares disc space with much later works to advantage, and one moreover that offers intriguing parallels and reflections. The Third was written in 1916 and is steeped to an unusual degree for him in Debussyian impressionism. The half tints and shadows that pervade the opening Allegro are embellished by a yearning viola line and glinting cello. In the Molto vivo second movement Villa-Lobos spins one of his pizzicato-led scherzi – propulsive and colourful. The long slow movement contains references to the opening one, with pizzicato pedal points and a sense of rarefied delicacy about it. Those expecting his glittering orchestral panache to be replicated in flashy superficiality should know that right from the first quartet Villa-Lobos showed himself a creative assimilator and tireless enthusiast for the form. Again the slow movement evinces impressionistic concerns – but the way the solo violin spins an effortless melody over oscillating lower strings is touching and beautiful. And then to confound expectation he throws a surprise – a finale redolent of locomotive chug, jagged and propulsive and very enjoyable.

The Eighth dates from 1944 and as with the majority is cast in four conventional sounding movements. A rather stately canon opens the work but it soon picks up lyricism and the chromaticism is richly absorbed into the bloodstream of the writing. His slow movement is introspective and interior in cast, the cello (Villa-Lobos’s own instrument, of course) taking on an especially eloquent role, the music spiced with the occasional moment of idiosyncratic colour. After a rapid and colourful scherzo we have a fugal and dancing finale; it’s very energetic but it’s also flexible and invigorating, as is so much of his writing for quartet forces. The Fourteenth Quartet (1953) has rather terse and short motifs in the opening Allegro. There’s plenty of strenuous and technically tough writing but he judges the arc of the movement well, winding down and reasserting his material with acumen. The heart of the work is the impressive Andante. The liquidly generous lyricism of this is memorable, with the first violin casting an enviably open-hearted line underpinned by the subtlest of harmonic support. The displaced accents of the Scherzo, with its quixotic sense of motion, are topped by the brilliantly written finale, full of colour and piquant instrumentation.

As before the documentation – notes by Juan Arturo Brennan – is excellent. Should you prefer a chronological treatment of these works try the Danubius Quartet (whom I haven’t heard). But I found the Latin American Quartet sensitive and thoughtful interpreters well deserving of your time.

Jonathan Woolf

Other reviews
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5
Volume 6


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