at the end of the 1940s, the administrators of Louisville Orchestra
took the brave decision to commission an extensive series of
new works from leading composers. In 1949 and 1950 alone they
commissioned works from, amongst others: Hindemith, Villa-Lobos,
Milhaud, Virgil Thomson, William Schuman, Carlos Chavez and
Roy Harris. The striking success of some of these ventures –
especially Schuman’s Judith – led in 1953 to very substantial
funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Many more new works
were commissioned and an extensive programme of recording was
undertaken. Between 1952 and 1967 some 125 LPs were recorded.
They included premiere recordings of works by, for example,
Ginastera and Dallapiccola, Elliott Carter and Lukas Foss, Roger
Sessions and Henry Cowell.
have memories – mostly favourable - of hearing performances
of music by Ned Rorem and Norman Dello Joio recorded as part
of that programme. Now the First Edition Music label is reissuing
this archive of recordings on CD; their website
gives details of the project.
four of these compositions by Villa-Lobos received their world
premiere recordings at the hands of the Louisville Orchestra
and it is these recordings that are issued here. As such the
CD is obviously of considerable historical interest and value.
regular listening, however, there are some serious drawbacks.
Throughout there are occasional lapses in the orchestral playing,
which falls short of the very highest standards. Erosão
and Alvorada Na Floresta Tropical are
presented in mono recordings of which the sound is generally
very scrawny, occasionally somewhat shrill and eventually rather
wearing on the ears. In these two recordings the sound is simply
not full or clear enough to do justice to the colour of Villa-Lobos’s
orchestral writing. Sonically, at least, things improve a good
deal with the two later, stereo recordings – although there
are still a few problems.
Brasileiras No. 4 will
be familiar to most; the music is characteristic of its composer.
The score of Erosão is prefaced by a Brazilian legend
about how the tears of the moon – unable to marry his great
love the sun – gave birth to the Amazon. Villa-Lobos’s score
is aptly evocative without being over-simply pictorial. Alvorada
Na Floresta Tropical employs Brazilian Indian scales and
contains some potentially very striking effects, though much
of its richness is lost in the recorded sound. The Danses
Africaines start with a rumba. Throughout the three dances
syncopated rhythms and some unfamiliar Brazilian instruments,
as well as some fine writing for clarinet, celesta and harp,
ensure some highly individual music.
an interesting document of the Louisville Orchestra’s important
work for contemporary music; but there are too many shortcomings
as regards performance and - especially - recorded sound for
this to be generally recommendable. There are better performances,
better recorded, of all of these pieces.