It is apt that Frédéric Zigante has recorded the complete Villa-Lobos
guitar music. Not only is he a sensitive yet virtuoso performer
but, since 2006, he has been creating new editions of these
works both well-known and often-unknown. He has returned to
the manuscript sources where available, but the composer tended
to leave several versions of some of the pieces and often the
differences are striking. The Valse-Chőro turned up in
2005 in the publisher’s archives and Zigante realized that it
once formed part of Suite Populaire in its first version
- movement 3, in fact.
The first piece on this CD dates from 1904 and the last from
1959 so the composer had many years to tinker with his creations.
This is highlighted by the Douze Etudes written between
1924 and 1928. Originally, Segovia asked for a single study;
what he eventually received was one of the great mountains of
the guitar repertoire. In 1953 the composer revised the studies
or at least some of them. The CD has, as an addendum, the tenth
and eleventh in the original versions. The rather ethnic sounding
former study in the 1953 version had become so much more focused
and succinct, successfully so. The latter study (No. 12) shows
fewer changes but is a little more technically manageable. In
numbers 1 and 2 one feels that Bach’s First book of Preludes
and Fugues is an inspiration. I also think that Villa-Lobos
had in mind making his studies more of a guitar equivalent of
Chopin’s Op. 12. One or two are musically disappointing - for
example No. 4 in G - but as a whole the studies make a superb
work. They should be listened to in the full sequence, which
I feel climaxes with the tense E minor Study No. 6 at the halfway
point and concludes with the exciting and angry final study.
The second group of six have, as Zigante’s useful notes tell
us, more variety, more “morceau de concert and display greater
You may think that you know your Villa-Lobos but he was an incredibly
prolific composer and here we have over one hundred minutes
devoted entirely to the guitar. So what are the highlights?
The simple but memorable Valsa-Concerto No. 2 is an early
work and is only known because it turned up by chance in a market
in Brazil. Curiously, it has a low opus number, a practice the
composer, who was already twenty-seven, was soon to abandon.
A favourite word of Villa-Lobos was Chőros or, as here,
Chőro. Some major works have that title. Some are for
chamber groups and some for symphony orchestra. In fact there
are twelve of them and some are extremely lengthy. The Suite
populaire is made up of five short Chőro, including,
curiously a ‘Scottisch’ example. There are two possible meanings
to the word. First, as the notes by Zigante tell us, it is a
piece in what we know as traditional Rondo-form – ABACA. Secondly
it was an improvised form for a small instrumental group which
had rhythms “based on dances of European origin”, hence the
Suite populaire has a Gavotta.
Anyone who knows the more commonly encountered pieces like the
Cinq préludes and the Chőro No. 1 subtitled ‘tipico’,
which opens the second disc, will not be disappointed. This
is an excellent and inexpensive collection very nicely recorded
without the feeling of being too close to the performer or too
distant. Even if you are not an aficionado of the guitar there
is much here to enjoy either as a late evening treat with a
glass of wine or for more concentrated listening.