Friday, September 14, 2018

Hommage à Chopin

Here's another Villa-Lobos recording I missed this spring. Marcel Worms' disc Inspired by Chopin includes Hommage à Chopin, which Villa wrote for the 100th Anniversary of Chopin's death in 1949. I find this a very moving work. Though Villa-Lobos was hardly built in the Chopin mold, the two composers had a lot in common. In André Gide's words, "Chopin paid no attention to symmetry and pendants." Villa-Lobos's piano music has obvious connections to Chopin's works, but probably more important was Chopin's influence in the development of the Guitar Etudes and especially the Preludes, which Villa-Lobos had written earlier in the decade.

This is a very fine performance of this work.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

One-hit wonders

Don Hogan Charles for @NYTimes

Today is Robert Indiana's birthday; the great artist, who died earlier this year, was born on September 13, 1928. I tweeted this quote from former Dallas Museum of Art Director Maxwell Anderson:
He was an artist of consequence who gets mistaken for a one-hit wonder.
Indiana's "one-hit" was, of course, his LOVE sculpture, which the artist himself called "the 20th century's most plagiarized work of art." When Indiana died in May 2018 many of us took the opportunity to see what a great body of work he had produced beyond the one work we all knew.

I'm sure everyone knows where I'm going with this! I happened this morning upon this ICA Classics disc which was released in April 2018, a very fine disc with two superb live recordings never before released on CD:

Both the Schumann and Dvorak cello concertos are quite outstanding, but what really interested me was the bonus piece, a live recording of the Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5, from the Edinburgh Festival on August 23, 1962. Galina Vishnevskaya sings, and Mstislav Rostropovich leads 7 cellos from the London Symphony Orchestra, in a very special performance.

In my Villa-Lobos life, the "one-hit wonder" part is obvious; promoting the "artist of consequence" part is how I spend much of my time every day.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

More about Lenny

The big musical event of this summer was Leonard Bernstein's Centennial on August 25th, and The Villa-Lobos Magazine got into the act with my earlier post about his 1963 Young People's Concert: "The Latin American Spirit". There's great archival information about this concert, and so much more, at the Library of Congress's Leonard Bernstein Collection Online, including these 12 pages of Bernstein's hand-written notes.

As well, Bernstein compiled this list of Villa-Lobos's percussion instruments:

As far as I know, Bernstein in his entire career didn't program any Villa-Lobos pieces other than Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5, either in concert or in the recording studio. This is a shame; he would have been especially good, I think, conducting Bachianas Brasileiras no. 2, 7 and 8, or Uirapuru, such a big hit for Leopold Stokowski. More importantly, I would have liked to hear him conduct a fully-staged version of Villa-Lobos's 1948 musical Magdalena. No less an authority than Richard Rodgers said that Magdalena was 25 years ahead of its time, and saw its influence, eight years after its run on Broadway, in Leonard Bernstein's score for West Side Story.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Lenny explains Villa-Lobos

For the Leonard Bernstein Centennial, a clip from his 1963 Young People's Concert: "The Latin American Spirit".

Here's the performance, by Nethania Davrath and 8 cellists from the New York Philharmonic.

Thanks so much to Rodrigo Roderico for posting these!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Villa-Lobos at Harvard

On February 21, 1945, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed an all-Villa-Lobos concert at the Saunders Theatre at Harvard, under the direction of the composer himself. The audience was in for a treat: this was the first performance outside of Brazil of Bachianas Brasileiras no. 7, one of Villa's greatest works, and among the best-loved. I'm not sure why only the last two movements were performed; the entire work was played at the world premiere in Rio de Janeiro the previous March. The next work was an even bigger coup for the BSO and Harvard (take that, Yale!): it was a world premiere, of Choros no. 11, written in Rio de Janeiro in 1925.

After the intermission came the orchestral version of Rudepoema which Villa-Lobos had made in 1932 from the original piano piece, written in the period 1921-26, and dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein. This was the third performance; the first was in Rio in 1942, and the second in Los Angeles the previous November. I don't believe there have been too many performances of this odd work since then.

This is a concert that's high on the list I keep next to the controls of my time machine.

Via Boston Symphony Orchestra Digital Archive.

Speaking of which, here's a picture (by an unidentified photographer) from the previous year, of Villa-Lobos in the Green Room at Symphony Hall in Boston.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Choros no. 7 from Montreal

From a 2017 concert, the Montreal Conservatory Orchestra plays Villa-Lobos's Choros no. 7, one of his great chamber works from his Paris modernist days. Oliver Holt is the conductor

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Soulful and jaunty light music of high calibre

Villa-Lobos: Harmonica Concerto, Works for Harmonica & Orchestra

It's great to see this re-release on its way from Naxos, a label which has done such stellar service for Villa-Lobos over the years. This fine recording from Robert Bonfiglio that was originally released on RCA Red Seal back in 1989 will be re-released in a nice new package on September 14, 2018. It comes with a really useful liner-note essay by Bonfiglio, and as usual with historic re-issues from Naxos, it sounds great.

The Harmonica Concerto is one of Villa-Lobos's many late commissioned works. He wrote it for John Sebastian, the celebrated harmonica virtuoso (and father of the now more-famous John Sebastian, leader of The Lovin' Spoonful) in 1955. It's a pleasant work, tuneful as most late Villa-Lobos is. It's first theme is awfully close to Wally Stott's theme music for BBC's radio programme Hancock's Half Hour, but not to worry, since Villa-Lobos will always have another tune up his sleeve. Bonfiglio provides some virtuoso fireworks, especially in the third movement cadenza, but for most of the piece he's called on to provide soulful sounds, and he does, with emotion, charm and style. He has superb accompaniment from Gerard Schwarz and his New York Chamber Symphony (originally the Y Chamber Symphony, once resident at the 92 Street Y, which ran under Schwarz's leadership from 1977 to 2002).

As fine a work as the Harmonica Concerto is, the final two-thirds of the disc is perhaps even more interesting. It's comprised of arrangements (some by Bonfiglio and some anonymous) of Villa-Lobos songs for harmonica and orchestra. Of course there's a harmonica-and-cellos arrangement of the Aria to Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 - how could there not be? You can never go wrong when arranging this evergreen piece as long as you have a suitably melodic instrument, and you don't meddle too much with the 8 cello parts. Schwarz's 8 cellists sound lovely here, as does Bonfiglio. The famous melody really does fit well with a harmonica. Bonfiglio includes pieces that Villa-Lobos cannibalized from his own catalogue when he put together music for his marvellous musical Magdalena in 1948. One of my favourite works here is the Samba classico that Villa-Lobos wrote in 1950 for voice and orchestra. By the way, this work was premiered by Villa-Lobos at the CBC in Montreal when the composer visited in 1958. This is soulful or jaunty light music of very high caliber. How nice to see this CD in the current catalogue once again!

This post is also at the Music for Several Instruments blog.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Villa-Lobos Essential Works

Menuetto Classics has a series called Essential Works, packages that include a variety of older licensed performances. Variety is the keyword with their Villa-Lobos release; it's really an odd mixture, though each track is beautifully played. There's one performance that I'd call essential: the symphonic poem Uirapurú, performed by Leopold Stokowski & the Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York. And I was so pleased to see the superb late work Fantasia for an Orchestra of Cellos, with the The Violoncello Society, an all-star super-group of all the top New York cellists, led by the composer. This is an easy way to get that work, streamed or on MP3, though I'll still be listening on my old LP!

Here is the lovely 2nd movement, Lento. An orchestra of cellos! Note that this album is now also available at the Naxos Music Library.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sexteto Místico from Santa Catarina

From the 13th Annual Festival de Música de Santa Catarina, Sexteto Místico by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Such an interesting work, from 1917, an important year for the young composer.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Lost Villa-Lobos piano transcriptions found

Here's some exciting news for lovers of Villa-Lobos's piano and guitar music.  Alvaro Henrique reports in his blog that the lost piano transcriptions of Villa's Etudes 9-12 by José Viera Brandão have been found. These transcriptions as well as those of the Guitar Preludes are by a close friend and colleague of the composer, and emphasize the influence of two pianists on the great guitar works: Frederic Chopin and Ernesto Nazareth. The Prelude transcriptions have become fairly popular with pianists; I'm hoping the Etudes will soon begin showing up in concert, on YouTube and in recordings.

This is Sonia Rubinsky playing the 2nd Prelude in Brandão's transcription:

This is from volume 7 in Rubinsky's Naxos series of Villa-Lobos Complete Piano Music. In his fine album notes, James Melo notes "In their technical virtuosity Brandão’s transcriptions achieve the stature of true transcendental etudes for the piano."