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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Erosão: Sorimáo u Ipirungáua (Erosion: The Origin of the Amazon River)1 (1950)
[15:46]
Alvorada Na Floresta Tropical (Dawn in a Tropical Forest)2 (1953) [8:02]
Danses Africaines (1929) [11:50]
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 (1945) [24:12]
Louisville Orchestra/Robert S. Whitney1,2; Jorge Mester3,4
rec. 13 January 1952, Columbia Auditorium, Louisville, Kentucky1; February 1954, Columbia Auditorium, Louisville, Kentucky2; 7 May, 1969, Macauley Theatre, Louisville, Kentucky3; 10 May 1977, Macauley Theatre, Louisville, Kentucky4. ADD
FIRST EDITION MUSIC FECD-0016 [59:50]

 

Beginning 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.

I 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.

All 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.

For 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.

Bachianas 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.

So, 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.

Glyn Pursglove

 

 



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