The Bachianas Brasileiras stretch from
1930 to 1945 across nine numbered works. That series fused native
Brasilian ambience with baroque style - specifically that of Bach.
The Chôros (13 of them stretching from 1920 to 1929) chart
the communion between Brazil's popular music and the modern (read
Do ASV plan a complete Chôros sequence,
I wonder. The nine Bachianas Brasileiras are in an EMI
3CD set (recently deleted and available at an unmissable price
from Berkshire Record Outlet) conducted by Enrique Batiz. It would
be good if ASV one day offers all thirteen in a set.
The Introduction and the Chôros
No. 1 both have a place for the classical guitar. In the First
Chôros it is alone and centre-stage pensive and
catchy - one of those classical guitar 'hits'. The Introduction
has a prominent place not only for the guitar but also for the
saxophone - thus featuring two instruments much favoured by Villa-Lobos
either as solos or as the focus for concertante works. Is it purely
coincidental that these instruments also trace either their majority
currency or their origins to bars, dance bands and popular use?
The sax also appears in the Chôros No. 7.
I had never heard the Introduction before.
It is a substantial melodic fantasia of a piece unashamedly dilute-echoing
Ravel's Bolero (5.43). The textures are kept clear so that
the considerable song treasury of the piece is not suffocated.
Succulent tunes are superbly matched with the sleepily pensive
guitar (8.43). At 10.04 to 11.02 Villa-Lobos injects a triumphantly
rhythmic and joy-brimming episode which soon evaporates as the
guitar's spell is re-cast in the humid shimmer. Villa-Lobos can
blast the listener and souse the ears in suffocating density of
instrumental strata. This can happen in The Forest of the Amazon
(Dorian), the later Chôros (10 onwards) and in the symphonies.
Here Villa-Lobos avoids the effect altogether.
The Second Chôros has the
flute singing across the chatter of the clarinet. The Sixth
Chôros Settimino is similarly inclined -
even more Stravinskian with much of the rhythmic input owing tribute
to The Rite of Spring. There is also a surprisingly Schoenbergian
element (3.03). The manly fun of the Third Chôros
makes much of the intricate clipping of the 'pica-pau'
calypso ostinato just as much as the troika rhythm in Nightride
and Sunrise or more appositely the folk-settings of Veljo
Tormis. I wondered if the chorus could have sounded more primitive.
Here they sound just a little too smooth. Lovely piece though.
The Fourth Chôros is the
most ominous of the sequence - chugging, with some of the ceremonial
feel of the wind music of the Gabrielis and later making way for
a Broadway 'blast'. After such ebullience the Fifth Chôros
Alma Brasileira speaks at first of a spiritually absorbed
Brazilian soul rather than the provocative carnival motley. Soon
(3.03) a Gershwin-influenced emphasis arrives and then slips back
into the dreamy warm waters of some upland lake. The contemplative
strain can be linked with the prayerful warmth of the Introduction
The Sixth Chôros (for orchestra)
is the longest piece here. It predates the Introduction by
three years. It is the most immediately energetic of the Chôros
here with sappy life proclaimed from the opening bars. It is the
rhythmic counterpart to the poetic Introduction. Of the
pieces here it is the most affected by the Matto Grosso. It has
that restless and faintly threatening jungle atmosphere. Overall
it is also the weakest and most miscellaneous of the Chôros
although it has its moments as in the nostalgic neo-Elgarian nobilmente
at 13.04 (reappearing with drizzling pomp at 23.02 to the end).
This theme is later to be reused with more affecting simplicity
in the Introduction (tr.1). The contented 'high sierra'
tune at 17.11 is a jewel comparable with the singing melody at
the crown of the finale of Ponce's guitar concerto.
The violins of the Gran Canaria orchestra lack
silkiness ... but one adjusts. The brass and woodwind are outstanding
and full of personable character.
A variegated collection then. The engineers
adjust balance and microphone placement to cope with the wide
range of demands from full tilt orchestal onslaught to intimate
ASV's 'branding' remains delightfully distinctive
in a market blessedly engorged with product. The label has with
consistent success trod the line between gaudy brilliance and
connoisseur taste. ASV's discs stand out on the retailers' shelves.
Their designers should take a bow.
This is destined to be a prize-winning disc to
be heard on many a veranda high above the sea ... or close your
eyes and conjure your own veranda.