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The American Carl St Clair embarked on a complete recording of the Villa-Lobos symphonies with the Stuttgart Radio SO. It hardly matters whether Villa-Lobos is a natural symphonist or not. The body of work is impressive enough to deserve the close attention possible with a CD set, the more welcome if it is finished by the 50th anniversary of the composer's death in 2009. Symphony No 6 almost has a subtitle. Just as Elgar needed the Malvern Hills as backdrop to inspiration, so Villa-Lobos had a comparable feeling for the mountains of his country. Well, not exactly comparable. He liked to plot mountain contours on to graph paper and attach musical notes to the different heights, so that some thematic ideas for this symphony originated in Profiles of the Mountains of Brazil. Much of the first movement is craggy indeed, but there is a fine contrapuntal build-up towards the centre, where the texture is less thickly packed [listen -- track 1, 1:56-3:00]. The finale has abundant energy, some of it dissipated in a whimsical series of solos for clarinet and horn; but the overall impression is of a movement confident and compact [listen -- track 4, 0:00-0:56]. Symphony No 8 begins in no less a grim and grinding mood. Some have detected in the midst of it a quotation from Schubert's 9th: nothing seems less probable. The ensuing Allegro is more relaxed and gives an impression of what becomes the work's prevailing manner [listen -- track 5, 4:04-5:10]. If the Brazilian skyline again influences the material, so be it. The Stuttgart team plays with the necessary conviction and power, and St Clair's strong interpretation fills an obvious gap in the catalogues.

Copyright © 13 January 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK







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