Scenes from Latin America
You want Colour in your music? Ill give you colour, You want
Sensuous music? Ill give you sensuousness. You want barbaric
music? Ill give you barbarism, but not artless or even in bad
taste. You wish to Luxuriate with your music well you found just the
right spot in the Rain Forest. You want Lyricism in your music well
I can even give you that with really big tunes. You want it Loud? Boy, is
it LOUD! Three composers , from different parts of a large sub-continent,
but nevertheless being part of their own distinctive sound-world. There is
much more here than Tangos.
For three of my four decades of record collecting this music had been virtually
inaccessible and yet, for example, Villa-Lobos produced a vast corpus of
music (12 symphonies, 16 string quartets, 5 piano concertos). He did not
produce this music in isolation but was well travelled and very familiar
with Western compositional forms German, Italian, French and especially
his beloved Bach. This last decade has finally seen the catalogue blossom,
bearing flowers of great beauty, fruits of wondrous tastes and the odd dangerous
animal. The steamy growth conditions in the rain forest has given rise to
a great diversity of flora and fauna and so too it has called forth a splendid
representational orchestral display with huge orchestras and rare and exotic
instruments imitating the calls of tropical birds, the crawling of insects,
the torrents of rivers, the crashing of trees and the torrid heat.
South American Art, Music and traditions came to the notice of the West following
the visit of the Ballets Russes to Brazil in 1917. Amazonas dates
from that year although it was more than a further decade before it was
performed. It is the only duplication on the discs under review. From their
series "Music of the Latin American masters", we have on Dorian Recordings,
Diemecke conducting the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, who
from the large puff in the booklet notes, must be very familiar with this
music, and on Marco Polo, Roberto Duarte conducting the Czech-Slovak Radio
Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava who, presumably, have the merest acquaintance
with the music but it does not sound like that at all. The Dorian
disc proclaims Fiber Optic 20bit sound, Marco Polo make no claims for their
recording. Dorian have accorded a clear, widely spaced, studio sound of the
highest quality which captures a large dynamic range but with an overall
effect I can only describe as cool or perhaps over-analytical and delineated.
The atmosphere on Marco Polo is quite different. The recording is just as
clear but closer and warmer. With Dorian we are floating on the wider stretches
of the Amazon observing the forest on the edge of the river. With Marco polo
we are running out of river and having to force a way through the overhanging
branches. We are enveloped by the forest with its mysterious sights and noises.
The sound may have less width but it has greater depth and is more dramatic
very fittingly so for this music. The Czech-Slovak orchestra (complete
with warbling Slavonic brass) is upstaged by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra
who sound more used to this music, clearly so in the ease of articulation
of the string section who are not at all tentative and much more idiomatic,
but, and it is a very big but, they do sound rather bland and less involving
and so failed to make much impact on me. This is the more surprising considering
they get through the piece in 10% less time. The Duarte orchestra are less
familiar and relish the challenge and are being kept on their toes. I am
with them every step of the way and was actually surprised to discover theirs
the slowest performance because it really builds up the pressure. Both sets
give excellent detailed notes and Dorian have 18 index points for the 11-minute
Amazonas so that the story, which appeared in a dream to
Villa-Lobos father, can be closely followed.
Amazonas is the portrayal of a young Indian girl coming to terms with
puberty and her emerging, explosive sexuality. This is all expressed in
mythological terms. She is bathing in the Amazon and looking closely at her
reflection which pleases her. She feels attractive and sensuous and dances
proudly for the Sun, caressed by warm, gentle breezes. The God of the breeze
is trying to seduce her and, offended at her rejection, carries her scent
to the region of the monsters. Smelling a virgin, one of the monsters comes
crashing through the forest destroying everything in its path. The girl suddenly
sees her own reflection transformed into this ugly creature and horrified,
she rushes off into the forest pursued by the monster. Villa-Lobos
rich orchestration is fully descriptive of each stage in this story.
And here the two discs diverge. On Marco polo there are three more "Amazon"
pieces. First in order of composition is Erosão (Origin of
the Amazon) (1950). It is based on the Indian Legend of the origin of the
Sun, Moon and Amazon Basin a piece of mystery and the origins of time.
This is a satisfying little tone poem. Opening with rustling strings and
rolling timps, Fafner tubas and fluttering woodwind, the strings take up
a hesitant melody with woodwind arabesques emerging into Sibelian brass passages.
Peace returns with musings on strings, horns and flute with softly growling
basses. Raindrops fall through the orchestra leading to rivulets, streams
and finally a smooth flowing river no rapids hereabouts. A chuntering
bassoon introduces a perky rhythm that gradually builds a lumbering dance,
which is brought suddenly to a halt. A quiet cymbal roll introduces a broader
theme, which slowly and peacefully expires. Dawn in a Tropical Forest
followed in 1953 and the title fully describes this 10-minute piece.
The first track on the disc is the later work Gênesis, written
as a ballet for Janet Collins in 1954. Villa-Lobos stretches his imagination
for special effects in this work. After a grand, opening statement of intent
this piece groans and slithers, rattles and bangs into being like a large
scale Little Train of the Caipira. Darwinian themelets appear and
evolve as they climb their way through the orchestra. Bassoons, tuba and
bass clarinet creak their way out of the primordium bass drum, gong
and cymbals. Violins finally scamper away, picking up speed with a sawing
theme accompanied by skittering woodwind. Blowsy horns follow on to eventually
lead the way in a merry dance. Having achieved development and transformation,
a quiet transition scene is introduced with solo cello and celeste, but still
with a hint of the dance rhythm being tapped out behind a floating theme
for clarinet and cor anglais. This is taken up by the violins and develops
into a soaring lyric - a hymn to Nature. The driving Brazilian dance rhythm
disturbs this pastoral moment and the brass exult in the glory of this main
theme. Another interlude, of bird calls over plucked harp and softly exploding
gong, and a whole variety of imaginative sounds as if the forest creatures
were luxuriating in the afternoon sun. The ballet moves towards a rolling
crescendo, ending with a yawning sigh of pantheistic happiness.
This is a really enjoyable disc, well recorded and with a comprehensive sleeve
The Dorian disc now departs from Pantheism and gives us
the Fourth Symphony Victoria, and the second cello concerto. Villa
Lobos, of course, loved the sound of the cello and it is probably through
Bachianas Brasileiras No5 for soprano and cellos that his name became known.
Forty years separate the two cello concerti, with the second (1953) being
contemporary with the other works on the Marco Polo disc above. It is in
four movements but of unequal length.
Although Villa-Lobos can write quite overwhelming music, he is much more
restrained in the cello concerto in the orchestral parts that is,
as the cellist has a very busy time this being a decidedly virtuoso work.
If heard blind I suspect it would be some time before any Latin element was
detected but it is there, in the choppy string dance rhythm. The second movement
is a beautiful andante which, in shape, is very similar to the aforementioned
Bachianas Brasileiras No5, displaying a haunting, yearning melody for cello
over a plucked accompaniment. To some extent this carries over into the third
movement which has a distinctly Spanish flavour. The movement is short (4:40)
but over half its length is taken with an unaccompanied cadenza for the cello
which then leads straight into the fourth movement allegro. This effectively
gives a balanced concerto in three more or less equal parts. This rather
spare work counterbalances the other two on the disc.
The major work is the fourth symphony. According to the notes of Juan Arturo
Brennan, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th symphonies
form a cycle of War, Victory and Peace; hence the title Victoria.
The symphony is based upon a text which is reproduced in the highly detailed
booklet in which Victory is running among the men at battle, encouraging
them, assuring them of triumph and offering them the prospect of peace,
employment and prosperity. One might imagine that the third symphony, which
I have not heard, might demand an outsized orchestra but even for his fourth
the composer is not content with a standard orchestra. He requires two
supernumerary groups one, the Fanfare, with trumpets, horns,
trombones and tuba and a second group comprising clarinets, saxophones, bass
drum, cymbal, tambourine and triangle.
As the symphony opens we seem to still be at war with rattling snare drum
and general percussive explosions and martial brass. The later woodwind chording
is echt-Shostakovich, as is the long, broad, searching string melody that
forms the body of the movement. I am also frequently reminded of Prokofiev.
I spite of the size of the orchestra the composition does not sound bloated.
In the text Victory begs that France lead the Flower of the Universe and
that Italy will not to let the Eternal Swan drown in the waters of Venice.
This is the subject of the second movement in which are heard quotes from
La Marseillaise with the brass in the Fanfare playing their part.
We then move to Italy for what is described as a Neapolitan song episode
before a crashing finale to the movement. The third movement is an elegy
in which Victory offers comfort and reassurance to those who were wounded
or lost their loved ones. Again I am reminded of Prokofiev in this beautiful
The Finale is Victory offering liberation ploughs will till the fields,
the trains will roll, factories will hum, flowers will grow on the battlefields
the blood will dry. At first the movement recalls the depths of the
andante but then the side band comes cheerfully into play, leading the orchestra
into a triumph of celebration.
Two indispensable discs the revealing a new side to this composer for those
only familiar with the guitar or piano concertos. There is an overlap of
one work but I cannot really see how you could do without either of these