Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Naxos Villa-Lobos Symphonies Series begins

Here's a CD I've been waiting for impatiently; it's the first in the new Naxos series of Villa-Lobos symphonies from OSESP, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Isaac Karabschevsky. It showed up first at MDT in the UK, with a release date of September 3rd, 2012.

The new disc includes one of the best symphonies, the 6th, which is subtitled "Montanhas do Brasil", or as presented here, "On the Outline of the Mountains of Brazil." The work, from 1944, has been recorded twice: by Carl St. Clair and the SWR Stuttgart Orchestra on cpo, and by Roberto Duarte and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra on Marco Polo. The 7th Symphony is from 1945, and has only been recorded once before, in the cpo complete symphonies set.

It seems like a good idea to present these two symphonies on the first disc in the series. In the mid 1940s Villa-Lobos was producing very accessible music; this was the period of the Bachianas Brasileiras. 1945 especially is an important year for the composer, who that year completed BB#9, the String Trio, the 1st Piano Concerto, the 9th String Quartet and the Fantasia for Cello & Orchestra. Perhaps the excitement of his first trip to America in January and February of 1945 got his creative juices flowing, or maybe he had a bunch of music ready to publish after a relatively quite time in Brazil during the war years.

It's become a bit of a cliché to say that the symphonies don't include the best orchestral music of Villa-Lobos. Clearly none of the symphonies can approach the level of Bachianas Brasileiras #1, #7 or #9; Choros #08 or #11; tone poems like Uirapuru or Erosao; or the concertos for guitar or cello. But the judgements in standard works by Appleby, Peppercorn & Tarasti were based on just a few recordings or live performances, and a sketchy availability of scores. Things changed when cpo finished recording the complete series of symphonies in 2000, and we're beginning to see a very few symphonies show up in performance around the world.

The current state of Villa-Lobos symphonies on CD is tilted pretty firmly towards Carl St. Clair & the SWR Stuttgart Orchestra on cpo:
  • Symphony 1: cpo only
  • Symphony 2: cpo, plus an obscure 1944 LP with the composer conducting the Werner Janssen Orchestra in Los Angeles
  • Symphony 3: cpo only
  • Symphony 4: cpo; a 1958 recording from France that's included in Villa-Lobos par lui-même; & a Dorian disc with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke
  • Symphony 5: score is lost
  • Symphony 6: cpo, and the Duarte recording on Marco Polo mentioned above
  • Symphony 7: cpo only
  • Symphony 8: cpo only
  • Symphony 9: cpo only
  • Symphony 10: cpo; Symphony Orchestra of Tenerife, with Victor Pablo Perez on Harmonia Mundi; Gisele Ben-Dor conducting the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra on Koch
  • Symphony 11: cpo only
  • Symphony 12: cpo only
There's not a single Brazilian orchestra included in the list above. Previous OSESP recordings on BIS (the Bachianas Brasilieras with Roberto Minczuk and the Choros with John Neschling) are to my mind the best, and in a very competitive field.  So I feel there's a good chance that when the dust has cleared (in another 6 or 7 years when the new Naxos series is complete) we'll be in a position to judge whether the symphonies might be more successful and more important than the current conventional wisdom holds. I'm hoping that Karabschevsky & Naxos can complete the rehabilitation of the symphonies begun by Carl St. Clair & cpo.

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