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Symphonies by Villa-Lobos -
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Villa-Lobos: Symphonies 6 and 8. (p) 2001 cpo


Hooked on the nine Bachianas Brasileiras of Villa-Lobos, I made a beeline for this disc, only to discover after a bar or two that the symphonic composer is very different from the man who so cunningly and so bewitchingly brought Baroque tricks to the melodic shapes of his native Brazil. These two symphonies can be pleasantly approached via the Suite for Strings, a work of 1912-13 laid out for double quintet, that was first performed (1915) under the title of 'Characteristic Suite' and has evaded the worklist of the newest Grove. If the opening Timide movement is obsessed with a brief harmonic formula, striking on its first appearance but wearing thin as the repetition total mounts up, the ensuing Mystérieuse pays discreet tribute to Richard Strauss, while the Air de ballet is an engaging waltz that at once produced credentials for Villa-Lobos as master of the light touch [listen -- track 11, 1:18-2:06]. The suite may have originated as incidental music to a play, a role it would fulfil readily enough.

The twelve Villa-Lobos symphonies come in a couple of batches separated by 25 years. The majority of the initial five are works of the First World War, when Brazil was backing the winners. Hence such titles as To war, To victory, To peace. This last, No 5, to the incomprehension of any Lady Bracknell concertgoer, is apparently lost. The final seven start in 1944, just as Bachianas are coming to an end. Again Brazil saw which way the wind would eventually blow in the Second World War but, with the partial exception of No 6, none of these symphonies has a title. They coincide, however, with an upsurge in the composer's fame. Touring initially in the United States, he was soon on good terms with Ormandy, Stokowski and Toscanini. He acknowledges his debt to New York by dedicating Symphony No 8 to the music critic Oliver Downes. Villa-Lobos was, however, sufficiently a conductor to tour both Europe and Japan as advocate of his own works.

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Copyright © 13 January 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK







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