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.