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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Grande Concerto Op.50 (1913) [19:43]
Cello Concerto No.2 (1953) [22:41]
Ulrich Schmid (cello)
North-West German Philharmonic Orchestra/Dominique Roggen
rec. Schützenhof, Hünibach, 1988

These are not new recordings though they seem to be receiving a renewed heave-ho in promotional terms. That being the case one has to consider how representative the two concertos are and how adeptly they’ve been presented.
The first concerto, entitled the Grande, was written in 1913 according to New Grove and 1915 according to the booklet documentation; I think the earlier date is the more probable and it aligns rather more with the music as well. The orchestra is quite a big, defiant one clearly influenced by French Impressionism in its widest sense. There’s an attractive role for some of the solo brass – trumpet especially – but the most constant feature of the writing is its rhapsodic intent. Placing the cadenza toward the end of the central movement is effective if not especially convincing in structural terms, nor in truth emotively.  The multi-partite finale gives some evocative passagework for the soloist though I’m not sure how many auditors would cry “Villa-Lobos” at any point throughout its twenty-minute length. Parts of the finale, with its lyric contours and winnowing orchestration, strike me as the most representative and successful. Altogether although reclamation on disc is more than acceptable, in the concert hall I fear Op.50 would just drop down dead. 
The later work, the 1953 Concerto, is a noticeably superior work. It was written for and first performed by Aldo Parisot, who left behind an LP recording of it. And I believe Parisot made some significant suggestions to the composer that he integrated into the score. It certainly seems to fall idiomatically under the cellist’s fingers. This is a four-movement work, compact and well structured from the sonata-form Allegro onwards. Songful and heartfelt this makes a considerable impression, and would make more of one were the recording better (more below). The second movement evokes Bachianas Brasileiras No.5. There’s an engagingly brash folkloric lilt to the Scherzo and some finely established cadential pages. The finale is enjoyable if ultimately something of a disappointment in strictly musical terms.
The soloist Ulrich Schmid is a fine player and his partnership with the North-West German Philharmonic Orchestra and Dominique Roggen is notably eloquent. But the recording does for them all. It’s swimmy and spread and there’s a fatal lack of detailing. Worse still the soloist is swamped by the orchestra. He should really sing out in the slow movement of the Second Concerto; unfortunately he’s all but inaudible and that’s a recording problem, not that of the soloist. This is a shame because the contours of the Second Concerto in particular are notably well done. In the face of this one can only suggest that the rewards of the disc are tepid at best.
Jonathan Woolf


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