The best-known music and the best performances open the CD – unfortunately,
excellent as are Victoria de los Angeles’ accounts of the two section of Bachiana No.5
(tracks 1 and 2) these are also the oldest recordings – 1957 mono
and rather thin. The booklet does admit that they are mono but
rather disingenuously lists them as (P) 1987; the CFP website
admits to the 1957 date. For all my reservations, these two tracks
are worth the cost of the CD alone: it was for them that I bought
an almost identical compilation on HMV’s now defunct in-house
label some years ago – it even had the same painting on the cover.
With Villa-Lobos himself conducting eight cellists from the French
National Radio Orchestra, this recording is authoritative; more
to the point, it’s also entrancing and it tempts me to buy their
recording of Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 9 on mid-price EMI Classics GROC
5 66912 2.
Bidú Sayão, of whom more anon, has become something
of a cult figure in Villa-Lobos – she can be heard singing this
cantilena on You
Tube, perhaps a shade more soulfully – but I’ll gladly accept
the sprightlier de los Angeles version. And by the end
of Dança (track 2) I’d even forgotten that this was a
thin mono recording. The sub-title martelo means ‘hammer’
and this is certainly a suitably energetic account. If you want
more modern recordings of Bachianas 1 and 5, try Jill
Gomez with the Pleeth Cello Octet on budget-price Hyperion/Heliodor
Manuel Barrueco is almost as fine – and much better
recorded - on track 3 in the guitar Chôro No.1; this
is followed by the Preludio of Bachiana No.4 and
the Tocata of Bachiana No.2, the ever-popular
Little Train of the Caipira in the capable hands of the
RPO and Enrique Bátiz. In the latter, only the memories of
an old World Record Club LP, emanating from Everest – conducted
by Eugene Goossens – intrude slightly. (Now available again
at budget price on EVERCD012, coupled with music by Ginastera).
Both these items are well recorded, as are these performers’
reappearances on tracks 12 (Tocata from Bachiana
No.3) and 14 (Introduction to Bachiana No.1). Osorio
emulates the woodpecker of the subtitle of the Tocata
(Picapau) in the piano solo role on track 12 without
overdoing the effect.
The excerpt from Bachiana 1 is an ear-catching
piece – there’s something very attractive in the sound of eight
cellos, here and in No.5, though it’s a combination that one
wouldn’t normally expect to succeed.
Oscar Ghiglia’s accounts of Prelude No.1 (tr.6)
and Etude No.1 (tr.13) are idiomatic and well recorded – a trifle
thin by comparison with the recording accorded to Barrueco on
tr.3, but that fits the quieter mood of the music well. Segovia’s recording of the Etude (Bescol BSCD117, 4 CDs)
is slightly brisker than Ghiglia’s, thereby bringing the music
to life a little more.
The Saxophone Fantasia (trs.7-9) is less well known
than most of the other music here. Marriner’s ASMF may not
seem on paper the most obvious performers of Villa-Lobos but
with Harle’s able assistance they acquit themselves very well
in the rhapsodic first movement and the darkly meditative slow
movement; I found that the très animé finale caught my
interest slightly less, but I suspect that is more to do with
the music itself than the performance, which is well recorded.
Listening a second time endeared me more to the music, even
to the finale: never judge a piece of music on first hearing.
I suspect that Magda Tagliaferro’s two tracks (10
and 11) are rather older than the (P) 1972/1996 given in the
booklet; they are both listed as ADD, though the sound is more
than acceptable. The Alma brasileira, or soul of Brazil, represented in Chôro
5, is dark and moody (Chôro means ‘crying’) and Tagliaferro
captures this mood well. The subtitle of Guia pratica
2, A maré encheu (‘at flood tide’), led me to expect
a depiction of a swelling sea, an expectation not realised by
the piece itself.
The disc ends as it began, with an authoritative
performance in an elderly ADD recording – at least this time
it’s in stereo, but it sounds rather dry – of three movements
from the suite which Villa-Lobos made from his film music.
Bidú Sayão may not be in best voice – she tends to sound forced
on the loud top notes – but this colourful music is vintage
Villa-Lobos. Anyway, there’s something oddly appropriate about
a soprano a little past her best – she would have been 58 in
1960 and retired from the stage – and a rather dry recording
in Villa-Lobos’s last major work. The purely orchestral Forest
Fire (tr.16) is the equal of Respighi at his most cinematic.
Perhaps EMI could be persuaded to reissue the whole of this
United Artists recording. I’m personally very tempted to hear
the whole work – there’s a Russian recording by Svetlanov on
RDCD00530, which I haven’t heard, though it’s good to see that
this label is available again in the UK. The Delos recording, with Renee
Fleming as soloist (DE1037) is still available and may also
be downloaded from eMusic – the 20 tracks will cost less than
£5 on the standard tariff. (see Rob Barnett’s review of this recording: “a rare chance to
appreciate the epic Villa-Lobos”).
The recordings, as I have indicated, are variable
but mostly of good quality; the notes are brief but informative.
The cover may have been employed before but it is eye-catching
Well filled as this CD is at 72 minutes, it should
leave you wanting more. This is a bits-and-pieces recording,
the chief value of which would be to encourage listeners to
experiment further, not least among the parent EMI CDs and sets.
The excerpts here from the complete Bachianas Brasileiras
1-9 recorded by the RPO and Bátiz should encourage the listener
to go to their complete 3-CD budget set (EMI Triple 5 00843
2), currently better value than the 3-CD Naxos set, while the
Marriner recording on tracks 7-9 should augur equally well for
his budget 2-CD set (Bachianas Brasileiras No. 3; Mômoprecóce;
Fantasia for soprano saxophone; Guitar Concerto and Piano pieces
on EMI Gemini 3 81529 2).
I recently reviewed
and commended Volume 7 of Sonia Rubinsky’s Naxos cycle of Villa-Lobos’ piano music (8.570503) and
other volumes in that series have also been generally well received,
especially Volume 5 (Guia pratica, Books 1-9, on 8.570008)
– see review.
The guitar music is well catered for in mixed recitals by Segovia on Urania URN22343 (a
1955 recording) or Julian Bream on RCA 09026 68814 2 or 88697
04606 2, the latter in SACD. The only current recording of
the complete music for solo guitar is on BIS (Anders Miolin,
BIS-CD686); I haven’t heard that recording but I’m not entirely
encouraged by noting that his tempi for the two guitar works
on the CFP disc are slower than Oscar Ghiglia’s – by quite a
margin in Etude No.1, where I much prefer Segovia’s faster tempo
even to Ghiglia’s.
If you’ve heard any of Villa-Lobos’s music and
liked what you heard, I think you’ll find this new CD merely
a stepping-stone to a larger collection and may wish to by-pass
it in favour of the de los Angeles GROC recording and the EMI
Gemini and Triple sets, supplemented by one or more of the Naxos
If you really want to go for all the composer’s
own recordings, the 6-CD EMI set is still available on 7 67229
2, a very mixed bag of performances but excellent value for
around £23; it includes the de los Angeles Bachianas.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the riches on
offer – I haven’t even mentioned the symphonies or the 17 string
quartets, for example: go to the MusicWeb search engine and type
in ‘Villa-Lobos’ to find what else is available.