Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Villa-Lobos Conducts Villa-Lobos

The greatest recording project of the music of Villa-Lobos comes from France in the 1950s. Though the recorded sound was thin, Villa-Lobos was at the helm, and he was given plenty of time to prepare his excellent musicians.  Released on 10 LPs in 1958, "Villa-Lobos par lui-même" was by far the best way to learn about the music of the legendary Brazilian composer in the 20th Century, especially after the set was released in a set of six compact discs just after the Villa-Lobos Centennial in 1987.

The set included all nine of the Bachianas Brasileiras (the 4th and the 9th in their orchestral versions). A highlight was the 5th, with the great soprano Victoria de los Angeles outstanding in both movements.  But there was so much more here: the four suites of the Discovery of Brazil and the 4th Symphony were two interesting orchestral works that weren't likely to show up in concerts or recordings. Though it was a shame that the full set of Choros weren't included - it was only recently with the complete Choros series from OSESP and John Neschling that we realized how great a series it is - there was one standout. The 11th Choros is one of the two great concertante works for piano by Villa-Lobos (the other is BB#3), and the great Magda Tagliaferro Aline van Barentzen [thanks for the correction, Harold!] is splendid as a soloist. [Tagliaferro shines in Momoprecoce].

The set seems to be still available at most outlets, and at a very good price. But now there's a new version - perhaps re-mastered - coming out. I've seen it at a number of UK web stores, usually for about £15 for 6 CDs. That's an amazing bargain.  If only they've somehow improved the sound! [I just saw this set on - to be released May 31, 2011.]

Even though we have new sets of Bachianas Brasileiras, the Choros, and the Symphonies, in excellent recordings with superb sound, there will still be a place for these Paris recordings. New generations of conductors especially should pay special attention to Villa-Lobos's own recordings. They represent the true spirit of his music, no matter how imperfectly he was able to communicate it to his French musicians.

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