Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Piazzolla and Villa-Lobos for cellos

The four substantial pieces by Piazzolla on this new Naive disc from Anne Gastinel are all so beautiful. I was especially taken with Café 1930 from Histoire du Tango. But my primary interest is in the Villa-Lobos, so let’s move up from the smoky tango halls of Buenos Aires to beautiful Rio de Janeiro!

The last time I heard the cellos of the French National Orchestra on disc was in the legendary late 50s recordings for Pathé-Marconi that the composer himself led, collected on CD as Villa-Lobos par Lui-Meme. This time around Anne Gastinel contributes her own considerable skill as soloist and also plays as a member of the group. I’ll bet Villa really wanted to get in there with his own cello during the recording of his first Bachianas Brasileiras in Paris.

The differences between the two performances of BB#1 are illuminating. The sound is so much better in the new recording, of course. The backward sound from the original Paris recordings is legendary, but man it sounds thin when listening side-by-side with the new Naive disc. As the star of the recording, it’s natural that Gastinel would take a solo turn with the lovely melody in the slow movement Modinha (score #2, marked Adagio), but it’s only marked as a solo the second time around (score #11).

Villa-Lobos has it shared by the two first cellos at first. Also, in Villa’s recording, the transition at #4 in the score is amazing, with a kind of hushed and mysterious sound from the cello orchestra that the new recording misses. Gastinel's version is brisk, taking a full minute less than the first one though all the repeats are taken. The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic are even faster, though, taking three minutes less than the composer. They also play the Adagio theme as a solo both times. In spite of the sound, I prefer the original, though to be fair I’ve been listening to it steadily for more than 20 years! This movement has a real operatic feel, which I think Villa-Lobos, veteran of the pit orchestra as a cellist himself, captures best.

The other Villa-Lobos work on the disc is the 5th Bachianas, Villa’s most recorded work by far. The superb Sandrine Piau provides a supple, dramatic Aria and playful Dança. But again, my favourite version is under the composer’s baton in Paris, with the amazing Victoria de los Angeles. The final vocal exclamation of the great second movement of BB#5 is a fabulous way to end a recording. Villa-Lobos mic drop!

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