Composed in 1954 for the 400th anniversary of the founding of São Paulo,
is the composer’s largest symphony. It is really a hybrid
symphony and oratorio for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Right from the
very opening bars it is obviously the work of Villa-Lobos. The Little Train of the Caipira
all immediately spring to mind from those late
1950s Everest LPs recorded by Stokowski and Goossens. Unfortunately, I don’t
recall any of this music with a great deal of pleasure. I was eager to find
out whether or not this symphony would change my mind. The Tenth symphony
shares the same fingerprints as these three pieces and there’s no doubting
that Villa-Lobos has his own sound-world. Some will be drawn into it; others
The first movement is purely orchestral and it is heavily scored, romantic
in nature and could easily be mistaken for a film score. It’s certainly very
lush and dramatic even if the material itself isn’t particularly memorable.
The second movement is a lament featuring a wordless chorus. Again,
Hollywood isn’t too far away. The third movement sets off as a vigorous
scherzo the first section of which could easily have been modelled on
Beethoven. This is satisfying writing but the level of interest soon
dissipates on the reappearance of the chorus and baritone. Beethoven has now
morphed into Orff and slushy romanticism returns with a vengeance. The
fourth movement The Voice of the Earth
runs for over 25 minutes and
the music meanders along in its own way. Lush sonorities and a clever use of
the orchestra fail to be convincing because, again, the material isn’t of
the highest order and the structure isn’t tight enough. It’s a long 25
minutes. The finale brings us more of the same and ends in a triumphant
blaze of sound.
To summarize, what we have here is a massive “Technicolor” work that
requires huge orchestral forces, a large choir and a lot of stamina. It’s a
. It must be a tiring slog for the performers to
get through this and their efforts are very creditable. There isn’t enough
contrast to hold the listener’s attention and it’s only the composer’s
interesting use of the orchestra that saves the day. The São Paulo Symphony
Orchestra is fully committed and Isaac Karabtchevsky holds the complex
writing together most admirably. The recording is spectacular but lacks just
a bit of air around it.
I find it hard to be enthusiastic about this Naxos issue. I personally
find the music to be overblown, garish and corny. Ultimately, it’s a most
unconvincing work sounding for all the world like a composer trying too hard
to be dramatic and imposing. The end-result is a brilliantly orchestrated,
exuberant and spectacular sixty minutes that doesn’t really go anywhere.
It’s like eating a massive feast that doesn’t taste of anything. I feel the
same way about the music of Khachaturian, Lloyd and Hovhaness so if you like
any or all of these composers you will almost certainly get some pleasure
from this disc. I didn’t really enjoy it.
By the way, in this recording the solo tenor part is taken by the tenor
section of the choir.