Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Compelling Villa-Lobos from Sao Paulo

From June 3, 2013:


By the time Villa-Lobos came to write his 3rd and 4th Symphonies in 1919, he already had under his belt two great works for large orchestra: Amazonas and Uirapuru, from the breakthrough year of 1917. As well, he had written a significant body of chamber music composed according to classical and romantic models. This was the period where he was finding his own voice as a composer, and that voice comes out to a large degree in both the 3rd Symphony, subtitled A Guerra, The War, and the 4th, A Vitória, The Victory.

The Naxos Symphonies series with Karabtchevsky conducting OSESP is winning me over to this music even more than the complete CPO series from Stuttgart under Carl St. Clair from a decade ago. This is sophisticated symphonic music, written perhaps under the influence of Russian composers such as Borodin, Rimsky Korsakov and especially Tchaikovsky. Villa-Lobos knew this music inside out from his days as an orchestral musician - he played the cello with the symphony and in the opera pit.

In the end Villa's Symphonies don't measure up to the nine written by the Swede Kurt Atterberg, who was born in the same year as Villa-Lobos. But it's quite interesting to compare Atterberg's 3rd, 4th and 5th Symphonies with Villa's 3rd and 4th. All were written during and just after the First World War, and though I can't imagine either knew the music of the other, there are similar themes and sometimes a common sound-world. It makes the disappearance of Villa's 5th Symphony even more vexing.

When Villa-Lobos himself conducted and recorded his orchestral music with the French National Radio Orchestra in Paris in the 1950s, he chose the 4th Symphony to go with the complete Bachianas Brasileiras and a selection from the Choros series. But he never sold that piece to the orchestra or the phonographic audience, or if he did you can't tell from the thin sound. Karabtchevsky and his Brazililan orchestra sell both of these symphonies, and I look forward to listening to them again. And I definitely look forward to the release of future discs in this series.

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