Saturday, August 27, 2022

Great Classical Music from Brazil

Brasil em Concerto: music by Nepomuceno, Villa-Lobos, Guarnieri, Guerra-Peixe, Santoro, Almeida Prado

This six-disc box set, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Brazil, continues the excellent Music of Brazil series from Naxos. We continue to learn more about Brazilian classical composers other than Heitor Villa-Lobos, though the Villa disc (which I reviewed here) is quite wonderful. Another disc I've reviewed recently was a real eye-opener for me: César Guerra-Peixe's Symphonic Suites and Roda.

Standouts from the other five discs include two Claudio Santoro symphonies: the 5th and 7th, subtitled 'Brasilia'. The latter reminds us that Villa-Lobos died just five months before the unveiling of the country's new capital on April 21, 1960, and he would have been the natural composer for this kind of symphony.

Oscar Niemeyer, the designer of much of Brasilia and its buildings, was one of Brazil's great modernist artists who made a big splash on the world stage in its second century. Another was, of course, Villa-Lobos, while a third was a friend of Villa's, the painter Candido Portinari. It's fitting that Naxos has featured a Portinari painting on the cover of this box set, "The Tree of Life", from 1957. A country's culture is, of course, so much richer than just the output of its artistic giants; this valuable set gives us a much better, more rounded, view of the music of Brazil.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Antônio Meneses plays Cello Concertos by Villa-Lobos

Antônio Meneses plays the 2nd Cello Concerto of Heitor Villa-Lobos, with Isaac Karabtchevsky conducting the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP), from a 2021 concert.

Villa-Lobos began his musical career as a cellist, and the instrument remained an important part of his music - along with the guitar and piano - throughout his life. This fine piece, written for Aldo Parisot in 1953, deserves a place in the repertoire.

Here's another, even less well-known, work for cello and orchestra by Villa-Lobos: the Fantasia for Cello and Orchestra, written in 1945 and dedicated to Serge Koussevitzky. Once again Antônio Meneses plays the cello, and Isaac Karabtchevsky conducts the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP), this time from a 2022 concert.

While this is called a Fantasia, it's in effect a three-movement concerto. Though come to think of it, nearly all of Villa-Lobos's orchestral music - Concertos, Choros, Bachianas Brasileiras, even Symphonies - might have been called Fantasias. He's always ready to add new material into the musical mix, and themes rarely stick around long enough for us to tire of them. This is Villa's true fecundity; the myth of his heroically prolific output has been over-blown. To reach the oft-quoted number of 2,000 works, more than half would be transcriptions and arrangements made as part of his educational output. He's actually in the same ballpark as many other busy composers, including his idol Bach. David Appleby came up with 592 works in his listing of Villa-Lobos's output, while Ludwig Köchel's catalogue of Mozart's works goes up to 626.