Thursday, February 3, 2011

Blue Rose Duo Villa-Lobos CD

Blue Rose Duo is cellist Lars Hoefs and pianist Rose Chen.  Their new Villa-Lobos CD from Wanderlust Music contains all of Villa's music for cello and piano except for the 2nd Sonata (the score for the 1st Cello Sonata is lost).  The disc was recorded in California a year ago, and it's available from various web sources, including (Mp3 download) and CDBaby.

Villa-Lobos was a professional cellist before he became known as a composer, and many of his earlier works were written or arranged by him for cello and piano.  The most substantial pieces on the disc are the 1913 Pequena Suite, and the three movements that Villa originally wrote for cello and piano that were incorporated into his orchestral suite Bachianas Brasileiras #2.  But the emotional centre of the disc is the Song of the Black Swan (O Canto do Cisne Negro).  This beautiful piece was originally a portion of the symphonic poem Naufragio de Kleonicos, written in 1916.  The following year Villa-Lobos arranged the song for cello and piano, and it's taken off in the cello repertoire in recent years.  I count 16 performances in the Villa-Lobos Website Concerts Database, and 20 recordings!  The present recording of this piece is very good indeed, right up there with the recording by Antonio Meneses and Celina Szrvinsky on Avie.

The other smaller pieces on the disc certainly show Villa's gift for melody, though none is as striking as the Black Swan.  You'll often see these pieces arranged for other combinations; Robert Bonfiglio arranged a number of them for harmonica and orchestra for his RCA CD of the Harmonica Concerto, for instance.  There's a premiere recording of "Improviso #7", written for violin and piano from 1915, played here in a version for cello and piano that's very effective.  There are no Improvisos #1-6, by the way; no wonder Villa's catalogue was in such a messed-up state until David Appleby and the Museu Villa-Lobos began organizing things.

Lars Hoefs adds so much value to this disc with his excellent liner notes. This is a first-class production all around, and one of the standout Villa-Lobos discs of the past few years.

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