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When Malcolm Sargent had a 1949 South American tour that included Brazil, and was not in the least put out at the authorities' last-minute inability to decide what time his concerts should begin, he found occasion to visit Villa-Lobos and manage some suave appreciation of the bad records of his music with which he was entertained. Both men could only have been delighted by a CD such as this, part of a systematic exploration of the Villa-Lobos symphonies, spanning a forty-year period during which music turned somersaults and Villa-Lobos developed enormously in stylistic cogency and power.

Sinfonietta No 1 dates from 1916, the same year as Symphony No 1. It is dedicated to Mozart's memory, and is said to contain two of his themes, neither of which did I discover. If they lurk somewhere in a middle part, I might be forgiven; perhaps otherwise not. The first theme does not in the least suggest to me 'the aristocratic elegance of the eighteenth century'. It is none the worse for that. The pounding, persistent bass gradually allows a fine cantilena to develop [listen -- track 5, 0:00-1:20]. The finale indulges in the sort of grotesquerie that demonstrates the eighteenth century has in fact disappeared for ever [listen -- track 7, 1:56-2:58].

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Copyright © 4 September 2004 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt


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