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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
The Complete Choros and Bachianas Brasileiras
Full track listing at end of review
Donna Brown (soprano); Elizabeth Plunk (flute); Sato Moughalian (flute); Ovanir Buosi (clarinet); Alexandre Silvério (bassoon); Anders Miolin (guitar); Fabio Zanon (guitar); Cláudio Cruz (violin); Johannes Gramsch (cello); Jean Louis Steuerman (piano); Cristina Ortiz (piano)
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra Choir; Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet; São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/Naomi Munakata; John Neschling; Roberto Minczuk
rec. 2002-2006, São Paulo (Choros; Bachianas); 1994, Traumton Studio, Berlin-Spandau (quintet); 1998, Furuby Church, Sweden (guitar solo). DDD
BIS-CD-1830/32 [7 CDs: 524:53]

Experience Classicsonline

I applaud Bis for having taken their Villa-Lobos Choros and Bachianas Brasileiras cycles to Brazil to record during the 2000s; that’s six CDs’ worth. While I am no believer that the true way for any composer must be found with artists from the composer’s own homeland these are undeniably spicy, hyper-coloured and poetically well judged readings. The technology does not let down the artistry.

With that in the background it comes as no surprise to me that the six orchestral discs have been gathered as a single set. However you may well already have bought them separately. Such is the music-making from Neschling and his soloists and technical partners that it will be no surprise if you had decided not wait. The seventh disc is of music for solo guitar. It was recorded in Europe and has been pressed into service to complete the sequence of Choros with Choros No. 1.

In 2003 the late and lamented ASV issued a collection of the first seven Choros using Gran Canaria forces (review). It was a good disc but there was to be no volume 2 let alone a third. Then again you could pick up some of the Choros on the various EMI collected editions of the composer in his own music from the 1950s (0077776722924). Nothing however compares with the splendour of these three discs (review of individual discs) starting with the epic Choros 11.

In Choros 11 we encounter the only independent big name soloist in the whole project. It is Cristina Ortiz who has recorded epic V-L before: the Momoprecoce and the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 3 (effectively a four movement piano concerto) are major pieces which she tackled for EMI with Ashkenazy when he was a tyro baton-wielder (review). She also set down all five of the composer’s piano concertos for Decca. Ashkenazy returned to No. 11 for the outstanding version that is to be found on a single disc on the Ondine label.

The style of BB3 is romantically exultant rather than heavy with sultry impressions of the Brazilian jungle. There' s something of that style in Choros 11. The central movement is wonderfully life-enhancing. It's a fine heroic work with none of the wild street or jungle stuff. This work, on a grand scale, dates from 1928 and was premiered in Rio de Janeiro in 1942 conducted by the composer. The dedicatee Artur Rubinstein was at the piano. You must hear it. The quality of the recording, which is truly awesome, can be gained by listening to the last five minutes. Ah! that rasping edge to the brass!

More obviously intimate and for solo piano is Choros 5. It is incantatory, rolling, mesmeric yet develops a brightness which might almost be John Ireland after all that ecstatic tolling. The railroad syncopation of the last section leaves us in no doubt that this is music tapping into the irrepressible vigour of South America. The music then sinks, with resignation or satiation, into the slow incantation from which it arose. The Settimino is delightfully alive with soloistic activity constantly in collage-kaleidoscopic action.

The Choros 7 has elements of the national native character largely omitted from Choros 11. There is some Stravinsky in this and coincidentally some Lambert as well. This music cheekily and cheerily winks, gleams and glints. Bird-song also cuts through the texture adding peppery harmonies and a feral pulse.

Volume 2 includes two of the purely orchestral Choros: 6 and 9. No.8 is also there and is for large orchestra and two pianos. All three are each between 20 and 25 minutes duration. No. 6 includes plenty of native Brazilian instruments but used discreetly. Barking brass nicely offsets the jungle gurgles at 3:45. It is overall a work of surging and blooming power.

From extravagant power we come to the winsome intimacy and sweetly sentiment-infused Choros 1 from 1920 for solo guitar.

Onwards to Choros 8! This is also known as Choros de Danca. It too makes use of native instruments. It bustles and hip-sways from the start. Strange exotic birds weave their birdsong into the material. It was written in Paris and Rio and premiered in Paris in 1927 at the Concerts Colonne - the composer conducting.

Choros 4 is for four brass instruments - grumpy, subtle, anxious, and at last swept into the carnival with popular street music as at 4.50. Wonderfully gritty playing.

Choros 9 is also pleasing. It’s from 1929 but had to wait until 1942 before its premiere which took place in Rio. It's a work in which the orchestra is again buttressed by various folk instruments. It's another epic-spirited work with grand matters mixed with hypnotic warmth and jungle carnival vitality. Just relish the deep grunt and rasp of the writing, the bird-song at 18:04 and the commercial street samba-rumba of the brass. It rises to a celebratory climax in the last uproariously joyous pages.

Volume 3 starts with the major work that is the Introduction to the Choros with a substantial role for solo guitar. This prepares the way for the first Choros for solo guitar. Interesting that at 5.13 the music evokes Ravel's Bolero. There is some slippery and timeless music for flutes coursing high and soft at 6:55 - it's almost a sentimental film score.

The two Choros Bis were intended as epilogues to the complete cycle. Indeed VL had thoughts that the whole cycle would be performed at a single or several concerts. The First, for violin and cello, sings capriciously through the violin. The cello acts as rhythm man. There is more lyrical work for the cello in the second of the two.

The Choros No. 2 is for flute and clarinet. It soon gurgles its street rhythm and sway with the flute adding bird-song streamers to the unwinding clarinet line.

Choros No. 3 Pice-Pau (Woodpecker) is a glorious seismic immersion in the street-jungle style for male choir and wind instruments.

Choros 12 is a big, swaying piled-high hay wagon of a work. It starts with a teeming rhythmic seethe. Soon a lovely sentimental melody enters the room and this is developed to glowing effect. This sultry rhapsodic work soon enjoys jungle whoops and chirping on a grand scale. It was premiered in Boston on 21 February 1945 with the Boston Symphony; the composer conducting

Choros 10 is for orchestra and mixed choir. It is one of his most mysterious works: quiet, spare and spectral at times. Mysteries are hinted at and spells unfold. As it moves into its second half the pecked and sometimes ecstatically wailed choral part becomes more prominent with great upblasts of brass expostulation. There is something of Orff's Carmina Burana here. One wild outburst reminds one of nothing so much as Walton's 1931 Belshazzar’s Feast. Could he have heard Choros No. 10 or seen the score?

After Choros 12 there were to be two other big Choros. Sadly these (13 and 14) were lost when the composer was unable to pay the rent for his flat in Paris where the scores were kept. No. 13 was for two orchestras and band while No. 14 sported a huge number of performers including instrumentalists and singers. It is said also to have used quarter tones in the vocal parts.

The Bachianas Brasileiras are much more than museum case exhibits. They’re certainly not pastiche. Regard them more as a free expression by Villa-Lobos of his love for Bach’s music. The include the most ubiquitous of Villa-Lobos’s works the BB No. 5 made famous by the recording by Victoria de los Angeles. The version here hits the right marques but stands a shoulder down from de los Angeles. No. 4 begins with a shadow of Bach’s Partita BWV 830 before developing into a phantasmagoria of display at the hands of Jean Louis Steuerman. The Sixth is a subtly intricate construct for two instruments. The First is for an orchestra of swaying and swinging cellos and there’s plenty of rhythmic torque. The Seventh is very accessible and luxuriant and the Sao Paulo forces seem instinctively au fait with the style and manner. Be aware that when David Harbin reviewed this disc some years back he spoke highly of the Michael Tilson Thomas BMG-RCA recording – a version I have not heard. The stern Ninth, is heard here in versions for string choir and a cappella voices. The impressive Bachianas Brasileiras No. 8 is not about surface glamour. Good to have the chance to hear the Fourth also in its versions for solo piano and for orchestra. Bis draws on earlier recordings from their treasury. From the 1990s comes the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet in the tastily swung Quinteto em forma de choros. Anders Miolin’s cool and revealing cycle of the music for solo guitar reminds us of Villa-Lobos’s engaging prowess in the genre. Andrés Segovia was the vital spark for this music. That last disc serves as a palate-freshener after some the more voluptuous eruptions of the lavish orchestral scores.

There have been several cycles of these works on LP and CD with other Brazilian artists on local labels. I have not heard these – but would like to.

Cleverly Bis have side-stepped the competition by fusing the two cycles. No-one else has done that. However be aware of Batiz’s brilliant cycle of the BB on EMI. From the same label comes another big boxed set Villa-Lobos par lui-même. It runs to six CDs of the orchestral music in performances by Heitor Villa-Lobos conducting L'Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, with Fernand Dufrene (flute), Maurice Cliquennois (clarinet); Jacques Neilz (violin), Henri Bronschwak (cello), Manoel Braune, Aline van Berentzen, Magda Tagliaferro and Felicia Blumental (piano); Rene Plessier (bassoon) and Victoria de los Angeles (soprano). That incomplete Parisian cycle is in 1950s mono. Ian Lace’s review of one of the CDs gives a good flavour of the experience. Match these with the Ortiz Decca collection of all five piano concertos and CPO’s very impressive complete edition of all twelve symphonies and you have much of the non-vocal V-L commodiously available to explorers, the curious and collectors. The solo piano music is on Naxos and the complete string quartets can be had in a delightful boxed set from the inspired Cuarteto Latinoamericano on Dorian Sono Luminus.

You can still get each of the Bis discs individually but at a very considerable total cost for the seven.

The notes are good and interesting. The few sung words are in the booklet

Look at the playing times on these CDs. One is in excess of 81 minutes. And, by the way, I had no trouble playing it.

This set is the place to go for a single collection conjoining the Choros and the Bachianas Brasileiras - brilliantly ignited and sustained from intimate solo works to seismic extravagance.

Rob Barnett

see also reviews of Bachianas 1 & 4-9 on BISCD1400 and BISCD1410 by Dominy Clements

Masterwork Index: Bachianas Brasilerias

Track listing

CD 1:
Introduction to the Choros for guitar and orchestra [13:32]
Two Choros (bis) for violin and cello [8:41]
Choros No.2 for flute and clarinet [2:42]
Choros No.3, Pica-Pau for male choir and wind instruments [3:32]
Choros No.10, Rasga o Coração for orchestra and mixed choir [13:01]
Choros No.12 for orchestra [37:01]
CD 2:
Choros No.6 for orchestra [24:49]
Choros No.1 for guitar [5:09]
Choros No.8 for large orchestra and 2 pianos [20:00]
Choros No.4 for 3 horns and trombone [5:31]
Choros No.9 for orchestra [24:19]
CD 3:
Choros No.11 for piano and orchestra [62:48]
Choros No.5, Alma Brasileira for piano [5:02]
Choros No.7, Settimino for winds, violin and cello [9:15]
CD 4:
Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 for soprano and orchestra of violoncellos [10:59]
Bachianas Brasileiras No.4 (version for piano solo) [18:48]
Bachianas Brasileiras No.6 for flute and bassoon [9:02]
Bachianas Brasileiras No.1 for orchestra of violoncellos [20:57]
CD 5:
Bachianas Brasileiras No.2 for orchestra [21:57]
Bachianas Brasileiras No.3 for piano and orchestra [27:28]
Bachianas Brasileiras No.4 (version for orchestra) [18:19]
CD 6:
Bachianas Brasileiras No.7 for orchestra [25:42]
Bachianas Brasileiras No.9 (version for string orchestra) [8:13]
Bachianas Brasileiras No.9 (version for choir a cappella) [8:34]
Bachianas Brasileiras No.8 for orchestra [23:32]
Quinteto em forma de Choros [9:44]
CD 7:
Five Preludes for guitar [17:33]
Suite populaire brésilienne for guitar [19:50]
Twelve Études for guitar [2:21 + 1:45 + 1:39 + 3:47 + 3:16 + 2:04 + 2:41 + 2:55 + 3:08 + 3:41 + 4:07 + 2:40]
Choros No.1 for guitar [4:44]




























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