Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Uirapurú (1917)
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 (1939-41)
The Emperor Jones (1956)
Odense Symphony Orchestra/Jan Wagner
Recorded in the Carl Nielsen Hall of Odense Koncerthus, May 1999 (Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 and The Emperor Jones) and August 2000 (Uirapurú)
BRIDGE 9129 [61.36]

This appositely chosen selection covers much of the span of Villa-Lobos’s composing life. It also reflects the high standards we have come to expect of this orchestra and conductor – and of the record label itself – in this kind of repertoire. Wagner’s affinity for Villa-Lobos, in fact, seems every bit as pointed and energised, as was his enthusiasm for Ginastera, the most recent of the Odense-Bridge hook-ups that I’ve reviewed here. The success of both discs is greatly to the credit of all the above named.

Uirapurú was composed in 1917 and employs a large percussion section and also includes that rara avis, a Violinophone. This was a single string offshoot of the hilariously practical Stroh Violin, so beloved of acoustic age fiddlers and recording studios, that directed the sound of the violin toward the recording horn via its own attached resonating horn. Imagine a fiddle with a mini gramophone horn attached and you’ll have the idea. The Amazonian myth Villa-Lobos evokes gives plenty of scope for colour and drama, but never of the unstructured or merely pictorial kind. The work opens ominously, impressionistically, its flute sonorities themselves evoking French impressionism; whilst the motoric trombone inflected drive adds spine and theatre to the score. There is plangency and – unavoidable word with Villa-Lobos but here goes anyway - exoticism as well as exceptionally clever binary oppositions, timbrally, as he pitches registral extremes against each other. The slashing, eerie violins and the lyrical winding down accompanied by punchy trumpets are all part of the rich patina of Villa-Lobos’s colouristic but poetic imagination.

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 exists in an original piano version; the piano composition was written in the 1930s and orchestrated in the early 1940s. This tribute to Bach is entirely consonant with Villa-Lobos’s taste for lyricism and extended drama and is a richly noble creation. The Preludio first movement has a luxurious gravity – if anyone can pull off luxurious gravity it’s Villa-Lobos – and the Coral, Canto do Sertão second movement is suffused with sweet lyricism. Sertão means "backlands" and this movement is accompanied by the high cry of the blacksmith bird – a repeated ‘plink’ in the orchestra - and as the movement unfolds so it grows incrementally in animation. The Aria has a solemn, hymnal tread, exploding once in an eruption of power before it returns to the initial material (but note the instrumentation of that trio disquiet; trumpet and clarinet). The work ends with a toccata of driving animation, one that manages to insinuate the colour and vegetative life of Villa-Lobos’s own continent into Bach’s more austere drama.

We end with The Emperor Jones, written towards the end of his life, when Villa-Lobos was sixty-nine. It’s based on the Eugene O’Neill play and the compositional fires haven’t at all slaked, not least in the Heart of Darkness evocation, set as it is in the literal and metaphorical jungle that is the play’s locus. The multi-variegated orchestration is at once colourful, saturated, brittle, heavily rhythmic, laced with ostinati, swooning strings, sweat drenched drama and panic and touched by a wordless soprano song of ominous delicacy. A short single-act Ballet, it triumphantly affirms Villa-Lobos’s transfusive qualities in orchestral music and makes a fitting climax to an altogether splendid disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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