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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Uirapuru (1917) [19:16]
Symphony No. 12 (1957) [24:50]
Mandu-Çarará (1940)* [13:36]
*São Paulo Symphony Choir and Children’s Choir
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/Isaac Karabtchevsky
rec. Sala São Paulo, Brazil, 28 Feb-7 March 2014, 19-21 June 2014
NAXOS 8.573451 [57:42]

This is the fourth release in what is hoped to be a complete series of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ symphonies, an aspect of the composer's music which has largely been overlooked. Indeed there has only been one other complete cycle of his symphonies, namely the excellent series by Carl St. Clair on CPO. It is about time that these fine works were known by more people.

This disc is however something of a departure. Whereas the other discs only offered the listener symphonies, this disc offers Uirapuru, a nineteen minute tour-de-force and the seldom heard secular cantata Mandu-Çarará. Both these works enrich our knowledge of the composer and his music.

The disc opens with Uirapuru, which is a large-scale orchestral piece, which can also work well as a ballet due to its elaborate programme about the mythical Uirapuru bird. Indeed it was dedicated to the ballet choreographer Serge Lifar. This is one of Villa-Lobos’ most colourful scores in which he evokes the sounds of the Amazon to help tell the story and did this without employing any recognizable folk-music.

The Twelfth Symphony was the composer’s final work in the genre and was completed in New York on his seventieth birthday on 5 March 1957. It is quite compact lasting just under twenty-five minutes in this performance. That's nearly two minutes longer than St. Clair on CPO (999 525-2) who is a bit faster in all of the quick movements but slower in the Adagio. It is composed in the classical four movement plan and contains many of the stylistic traits of the composer’s late works. The orchestration of the symphony is more traditional than in some of his orchestral works. The vast lush wind sound is replaced with a more mainstream wind section, yet the percussion section is augmented with tam-tam, cymbals, cocos and xylophone. The Symphony contains a variety of melodic writing styles, but is more Romantic in nature in the outer movements. The central movements are more impressionistic. The result is a kind of synthesis between European style and Latin soul; very enjoyable and rewarding it is too.

The final work on the disc is Mandu-Çarará, the only one of these three works that was new to me. It is a cantata in form; although the piano score describes it as a ‘ballet’. It is akin to Choros No. 10 in the way that Villa-Lobos combines the chorus, who sing in the Nheengatu language, with the grandeur of the orchestra. As with Uirapuru, this is based on indigenous legends, with Mandu-Çarará being the god of dance. It is here where the ballet aspect comes into play. Indeed it has a prominent dance rhythm throughout. This is a strong and exciting work: one which deserves to be better known. Let’s hope that this performance brings it the recognition it deserves.

The playing of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Isaac Karabtchevsky is every bit as accomplished as the SWR Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart under Carl St. Clair. There is in fact very little between the two. It would come down to a choice of fillers, with CPO giving the listener the Fourth Symphony Victory, which I feel is better coupled with the Third War as on the earlier Naxos release (8.573151). The couplings here win hands down. The singing of the São Paulo Symphony Choir and Children’s Choir is also excellent, with the juxtaposition between the adults and children working well. Good notes and recorded sound also add to the enjoyment of this fine recording.

Stuart Sillitoe


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