Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Complete Guitar Music
Cinq Préludes (1940) [22.44]
Suite Populaire Brésilienne (1907-23) [21.09]
Valsa-Concerto No. 2 Op. 8 (1904) [4.14]
Simples - Mazurka (1911) [2.25]
Chőros No. 1 (1920) [4.45]
Douze Etudes (1928 rev. 1953) [36.18]
Valse Chőro (1928) [4.48]
Etude No. 10 [3.33]
Etude No. 11 (1928 version) [4.18]
Frédéric Zigante (guitar)
rec. October 2009-October 2010, Romano Canaves (Turin), Ciesa di Santa Marta
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9196 [50.41 + 54.01]

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 formal complexity”.

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.

Gary Higginson

An excellent and inexpensive collection.