Saturday, November 17, 2018

Poema da Itabira




Contralto Maura Moreira sings Heitor Villa-Lobos's masterful song Poema da Itabira, with Walter Hendl conducting the National Symphony Orchestra. This was recorded at the 4th Inter-American Music Festival, at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia MD, in 1968, and we once again thank Rodrigo Roderico for bringing this to our attention.
"In 1941, Villa-Lobos composed what is perhaps his most ambitious and original work for solo voice with piano or with orchestra, entitled Poema da Itabira, on a text by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, dedicated to Marian Anderson. In his work the composer has endeavoured to use the human voice as a musical instrument, making it in effect the soloist in a kind of concerto for voice and orchestra. The music has no overt Brazilian elements, but may be regarded as impregnated with Brazilian 'atmosphere'."
- Denis Stevens, A history of song, 1970
I've posted about Villa-Lobos's relationship with Marian Anderson a number of times at The Villa-Lobos Magazine. I'll plunder a couple of them with this interesting information:

The year before Marian Anderson's Easter Sunday 1939 concert on The Mall in Washington DC, the great singer met Villa-Lobos in Rio de Janeiro. The two hit it off, and we have this fine photograph (with Mindinha) to document the friendship. This was taken at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on March 14, 1945, at a reception in the composer's honour.



Allan Keiler, in Marian Anderson: a singer's journey (University of Illinois Press, 2002), continues the story:
"She was struggling to learn the Poema do Itabira, a difficult work both rhythmically and melodically, for solo voice and orchestra by Villa-Lobos, which she was scheduled to perform at a pair of concerts with Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony in December [1954]. Set to a Portuguese text by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the Poema protrays the emotionally desperate feelings of de Andrade's characters, orchestrated so as to conjure up the starkness of the desert of Itabira. Anderson had met Villa-Lobos during the war while on a tour of South America. It was with Anderson's voice in mind that Villa-Lobos had composed the Poema several years later, dedicating the work to Anderson. Never having sung it before, she wanted badly to satisfy the composer." (p. 268)
There doesn't seem to be a surviving recording of Marian Anderson singing this work. Indeed, I've never come across it on CD. Baritone Renato Mismetti gives an impressive performance of the work (in the voice & piano version, with Maximiliano de Brito providing the accompaniment) on this video.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Complex music from a child-like world


Villa-Lobos: Guia Prático, Petizada, Brinquedo de Roda, Historias da Carochinha

In the early 1930s Heitor Villa-Lobos published his collection of 137 children's songs from around Brazil, entitled Guia Prático (Practical Guide). This was an educational project he undertook as Director of SEMA (the national Superintendency of Artistic and Musical Education).

This is only the fourth recording of the complete Guia Prático. The first, by Villa's friend Anna Stella Schic, released in 1976, has the merit of authenticity, if not the same qualities of pianism or recording technology of later releases. Clara Sverner had a fine complete Guia Prático in 2007, on the Biscoito label in Brazil, which might be hard to find on disc, but it's available for download and streaming. The gold standard for all of Villa-Lobos's piano music, though, is Sonia Rubinsky's complete set, released in the first decade of the 2000s and now available in an affordable Naxos box set. Her Guia Prático is outstanding in its sensitivity to the childlike nuances of the music, without any loss of virtuosity in these often very difficult works.

This really is a tightrope walk: playing through works of significant technical and musical complexity without losing the link to child-like innocence and wonder. Villa-Lobos had been down this path before, with his two sets (a third was lost) of A Prole do Bebê, modernist masterpieces exploring the world of children, but requiring virtuoso technique.  Marcelo Bratke has this technique, and seems very much at home in the musical worlds of Brazil's regions. As well played as this music is, though, I think it's complementary to Rubinsky's set, rather than in any sense supplanting it.

I'm usually a big fan of Naxos sound engineering, though there are occasional missteps along the way in the Rubinsky set. Quartz delivers very lifelike sound for Bratke here, and I have no complaints about the sound in this album, or in the previous three releases. Bratke's complete piano set began in 2010, with the second release in 2012 and the third in 2013. These two discs comprise the 4th and 5th volumes, which means there are probably three discs to come.  They will be welcome when they arrive.

This disc will be released on November 16, 2018.

This review is also posted at Music for Several Instruments.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A new recording of O Martírio dos Insetos


Here's a coincidence: in my previous post I talked about Villa-Lobos's O Martírio dos Insetos, written in 1917/1925 for violin and orchestra. Of course I said we really need a good recording of this fascinating work. That's something I've said many times about many Villa-Lobos works over the past 25 years, and there are only a few major works still left unrecorded (in spite of the exaggerated talk about how prolific a composer he was). And now here is an upcoming recording of the work, from Naxos naturally, though not the full violin and orchestra version, but an arrangement for violin and piano by Ricardo Averbach. I'm looking forward to this disc, due for release on December 7, 2018. A nice Christmas present for all the Villa-Lobos fans out there!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Heifetz plays Villa-Lobos

Here is a real find by Rodrigo Roderico, who has been posting some great Villa-Lobos performances on YouTube. A Mariposa na Luz is the final movement of O Martírio dos Insetos, a work for violin and orchestra that Villa-Lobos wrote in 1925 (the first two movements) and 1917 (the finale). It's played here by one of the 20th century's greatest instrumentalists, Jascha Heifetz, with Donald Voorhees conducting the Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra. This is from a 1946 radio broadcast on NBC.




The Martyrdom of the Insects is a work that should be much better known. Here is a more recent performance of the entire work. Daniel Guedes is the violinist, with the Miami University Symphony Orchestra, under Ricardo Averbach. We badly need a good recording of this work!




Friday, October 5, 2018

A new Marcelo Bratke piano release


.,.


Here's a release I've been waiting for a while: the latest in Marcelo Bratke's series of complete piano music by Heitor Villa-Lobos. This 2-CD set, billed as vol. 4 & 5, will be released on October 19, 2018. Included are all 11 of the albums of Guia Pratico, plus three other works: Petizada, Brinquedo de Roda & Historias da Carochinha. Watch for my review soon, at Music for Several Instruments (and I'll also post it here at The Villa-Lobos Magazine).


The cover photo of Marcel Bratke makes reference to the photo on the back, with the composer at the blackboard. I've misplaced the photo credit, if I ever had it, but I'm busy looking on the web, & will add it here if I find it. Great shot!



Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Musical synchronicity with Prokofiev and Villa-Lobos

Here's a new video from Simone Menezes, in which she compares two modernist works written in 1916/17, one in St. Petersburg and the other in Rio de Janeiro.



This really is a case of musical synchronicity: Prokofiev's First Symphony "Classical", written as an homage to Haydn, has so many similarities to Villa-Lobos's Sinfonietta no. 1 "À memória de Mozart". While the Prokofiev work is one of the staples of the orchestral repertoire, the Villa-Lobos work is almost unknown. If you're in Switzerland later this month, you'll have a chance to hear Simone conduct this work with the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne.  This concert will be broadcast on Swiss Radio Classic; I'll let you know the date and time.

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."

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A tour-de-force of musicianship and technology


Antonio & Alberto Lysy: South America. Music by Villa-Lobos, Casals, Piazzolla, Kodaly, Bach, Gardel, Filiberto, Mora

In 1958 cellist Bernard Greenhouse and composer Heitor Villa-Lobos organized a concert at New York's Town Hall of The Violoncello Society, a newly formed group led by Greenhouse and made up of many of the top cellists of the day. The concert, which was recorded and released on an LP, though unfortunately never re-released on CD*, included a number of Bach Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier. These were adapted by Villa-Lobos in 1941 for "an orchestra of cellos". In his score he asks for a minimum of ten, and in the end Greenhouse rounded up 32 cellists for the recording.

In this new Yarlung Records disc Antonio and Alberto Lysy provide a well-chosen selection of South American music for cello and violin, and a few other instruments. In a tour-de-force of technology and musicianship, and in a tribute to his hero Bernard Greenhouse, cellist Antonio Lysy multi-track recorded between 16 and 28 cellos playing 4 to 7 parts in one of Villa's Bach fugues, and in Pablo Casals' multi-cello piece Les Rois Mages (The Three Kings). Producer Bob Attiyeh provides this explanation in his excellent liner notes:


The effect is quite stunning.



There's much more on this disc. Two popular Villa-Lobos pieces show up, featuring Antonio's cello with two guests: O canto do cisne negro (The Song of the Black Swan) with harpist Marcia Dickstein Vogler; and Assobio a Jato (The Jet Whistle) with Anastasia Petanova on flute. There are a number of works from Argentina featuring Coco Trivosonno on bandoneon. Finally, there's a major work for father and son, with Alberto Lysy on violin: Zoltán Kodály's Duo for Violin and Cello. This is a well-planned, beautifully-played and expertly recorded disc.

* but listen to it on YouTube here.

This post is also featured at Music for Several Instruments.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Bom apetite!


Here is a very cool project from back in 2012, by soprano Julianne Daud and chef Ivo Faria da Costa of Vecchio Sogno Ristorante in Belo Horizonte. Chef Faria matched pieces by Villa-Lobos with dishes he created, and served them as Daud and a small group of musicians performed.

The fish appetizer goes with Uirapuru:


The next course with Choros no. 5, "Alma Brasileira":


With pork ribs "à moda sertaneja" (country style), the Toccata movement from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 2, the Little Train from the Caipira:


Finally, for dessert, Villa-Lobos's sweetest music, the Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5:



Sunday, March 11, 2018

Engaging and colourful music from Latin America


Villa-Lobos: Concerto Grosso, Fantasia em Tres Movimentos (en Forma de Choros); Chavez: Chapultepec; Rodrigo: Per la flor del lliri blau, Adagio

This is such a great release, with music we've needed on disc for such a long time. Of course, I'm most interested in the two Villa-Lobos works, both of which from his late period. Late Villa-Lobos is a bit of a hodgepodge; it includes a few less than inspired commissioned works, but also some of his greatest music: the last few String Quartets, the Magnificat Alleluia and Bendita sabedoria, and the operas Yerma and A Menina das Nuvens. The two pieces for wind orchestra are both standouts. The Concerto Grosso for Wind Quartet (flute, oboe, clarinet & bassoon) and Wind Orchestra is from Villa-Lobos's last year, 1959. There are a few recordings available, including a Latin Grammy-winner from Naxos with Jose Serebrier conducting "The President's Own" United States Marine Band. The 1958 Fantasia em Tres Movimentos (en Forma de Choros), a nostalgic final look back at a lifetime of music in the Choros form, has only a single recording, a world premiere available from the University of Pennsylvania Music Department. Both of the newly recorded pieces are beautifully played by the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra under conductors Clark Rundell and Mark Heron, and well presented by the Chandos producer engineers. 2017 was the Villa-Lobos Symphonies Year, thanks to the completion of the Naxos series from OSESP under Isaac Karabtchevsky. Even though it's only March, I'm quite sure 2018 will be the Villa-Lobos Wind Orchestra Year, based on this release.

On Twitter I referred to these two works as Villa-Lobos's NAFTA music, after Marcelo Rodolfo of the Museu Villa-Lobos tweeted that the Concerto Grosso was written in Mexico, and the Fantasia in Canada:


As you can see from the scores, both works were written for The American Wind Symphony in Pittsburgh, and both were dedicated to Mindinha.


(Thanks for these, Marcelo!)

The other works on this disc are really interesting. The two pieces by Joaquin Rodrigo are about what I expected, colourful music with Iberian touches. With the title Chapultepec, I expected something more folkloric from Carlos Chavez's piece, but it's more about the municipal band in the town square playing military marches and Italian opera tunes than anything approaching the revolutionary modernism we connect with Chavez. The entire disc is full of colour and engaging tunes; it's completely delightful.

This disc will be released on April 23, 2018. This review also appears at Music for Several Instruments.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4 for Wind Ensemble, & more!




Here's another arrangement of a Villa-Lobos piece for wind ensemble, after yesterday's BB#5 Aria from DePauw University Band. It's from The University of Houston Wind Ensemble's 1999 album Enigma Variations, conducted by Eddie Green. The arrangement is by Merlin Patterson.

The 4th Bachianas Brasileiras went through a number of transformations by Villa-Lobos himself. It was originally written for piano in three chunks: the Dança (Miudinho), which became the finale, in 1930; the Ária (Cantiga), the 3rd movement, in 1935; and the Prelúdio (Introdução) and Coral (Canto do Sertão), the 1st two movements, in 1941.



Villa then orchestrated the piece in 1942.



Finally, he re-worked the first movement to become the opening Seed of God segment of his Broadway musical Magdalena. There's a recording of the Magdalena Suite on an amazing LP from 1974 called Andre Kostelanetz Plays Villa-Lobos. Unfortunately, this isn't available on Spotify, but you can listen to a 30 second clip at the Internet Archive. By the way, this disc is available on CD & MP3 from Klassic Haus Restorations.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

BB#5 Aria for Wind Ensemble

This is quite lovely: John Krance's arrangement for wind ensemble of the Aria of Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5. It's played beautifully by the DePauw University Band, conducted by Craig Paré. From their 2017 album Everything Beautiful.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Wind Band Music from Latin America


This is exciting: a new Chandos disc of music for wind orchestra from Latin America, due to be released on April 23, 2018, which includes two important late works by Villa-Lobos.


The Concerto Grosso for Wind Quartet (flute, oboe, clarinet & bassoon) and Wind Orchestra is from Villa-Lobos's last year, 1959. There are a few recordings available, including a Latin Grammy-winner from Naxos with Jose Serebrier conducting "The President's Own" United States Marine Band. The 1958 Fantasia em Tres Movimentos (en Forma de Choros), has only a single recording, a world premiere, available from the University of Pennsylvania Music Department.


Villa-Lobos had a real knack for wind band music, and the different sonorities make these works more interesting than some of the more routine commissioned works from the 1950s. I have high hopes for the new Chandos disc. Once I get a chance to hear it, I'll report on it here, and post a full review at Music for Several Instruments.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Nepomuceno songs arranged by Villa-Lobos


New at the IMSLP Petrucci Music Library, scans of the autograph scores of two songs by Alberto Nepomuceno arranged for voice and orchestra by Villa-Lobos: Oração ao diabo and Trovas. These are in the public domain, except in the EU.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Viva Villa! at OSESP


In February 2018 the place to be for Villa-Lobos fans is Sao Paulo. Later this month the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) will feature six concerts of Villa-Lobos in their Viva Villa! Festival. Isaac Karabtchevsky leads the orchestra in such important works as Choros #10 and Uirapuru. They'll also play assorted movements from the Symphonies, coinciding with the release of the 6 CD box set of the Complete Symphonies from Naxos. The excellent OSESP Choir, led by Valentina Peleggi will perform the choral version of Bachianas Brasileiras #9 along with Villa-Lobos's arrangements of Bach preludes and fugues. Also featured are guitarist Fabio Zanon and pianist Marcelo Bratke.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Bachianas Brasileira no. 2: live performance from the ABM



Except for the Little Train movement, the 2nd Bachianas Brasileiras isn't as well known as some of the other in the series. Here's a fine recent (July 2017) performance by Roberto Tibiriçá and the Orquestra Sinfônica da UFRJ.