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Villa-Lobos Choros 11 and Symphony 10

Heitor Villa-Lobos - Choros, Volume I
Choros 5, 7 & 11
Cristina Ortiz & Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling

BIS-CD-1440 Total time: 78'06

Villa-Lobos: Symphony no 10 "Amerindia - Sumé pater patrium"
Southwest German Radio Vocal Ensemble, Stuttgart; Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra; Stuttgart State Opera Chorus members/Carl St. Clair CPO 999786 TT: 73 mins

Two substantial works from Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) an unique composer who has not really established his due importance in UK, where his music is heard occasionally, more often smaller scale works from his vast catalogue.

Choros 11 (1928) is in effect a grandiose piano concerto, lasting 63 minutes in this vivid account by Cristina Ortiz with the Sao Paulo SO. This disc is valuable first for Jorge Coli's introduction to a composer who invented himself, making a canny decision in Paris to become a 'tropical' composer in response to the vogue for 'barbarian exoticism' then flourishing there. A myth maker whose biography is not at all to be trusted (a comparable case is Giacinato Scelsi, of whom I have written extensively) Villa-Lobos' 'Brazilianness' developed from social and career imperatives, realising that his interest to the European musical world was as a purveyor of music that 'reflected the diversity of the colours of the tropics'...

Whatever the truths being unravelled by the musicologists, Villa-Lobos' music of the '20s is hugely attractive, and this is as good a place to start as any. Choros 11 was written for Rubinstein and can be thought of as an inflated concerto grosso, romantic, passionate and virtuosic. It was not performed until 15 years later and infrequently since then. It is engaging immediately and holds the listener's attention unswervingly for its unflagging invention over an hour and more. The orchestration is brilliant in support of Cristina Ortiz's exciting pianism.

In her Journal, Ortiz tells how "When asked to learn Villa-Lobos’ Choros # 11, the only information I had was its length, all of 65 minutes! But the moment I read two or three of the most beautiful themes he ever wrote, my decision was made and I never flinched: the pleasure I would get from playing them, carried me all the way!"

There are two shorter pieces included in this generously filled first volume of a projected series of the complete Choros, a short piano piece and a septet for winds, violin and cello. Presentation is impeccable and this is a series to follow and collect.

I have sampled the Tenth Symphony, released by CPO with extensive documentation in their typically miniscule print, but found it less gripping, so I have no hesitation in recommending the BIS disc first (the other received for review at the same time, is a large scale oratorio with chorus and three male soloists, dating from 1952, and will be assessed in due course by our vocal specialist).

As for the Choros 11, I don't know if it has been performed in Britain? Whether or not, it would be an ideal work to be championed by an up-coming pianist and a splendid showcase for the symphony orchestra of one of our leading music colleges. Any takers?

Peter Grahame Woolf

Heitor Villa-Lobos
Choros Nos. 2, 3, 10, & 12; Introduction to the Chorus; Two Choros (Bis)

Fabio Zanon (guitar); Cáudio Cruz (violin); Johannes Gramsch (cello); Elizabeth MacCafferty (flute); Ovanir Buosi (clarinet)
Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra & Choir/John Neschling


This volume 3 completes the BIS V-L Choros series, music as colourful as you'll hear.

Villa-Lobos was an outsize character, larger than life, as shown on the cover illustration, and he was Brazil's national composer of his time.

These works from the later 1920s cover a vast range, from huge orchestra with singers (Choros No. 10) to little pieces for violin/cello duo.Some of the music is pointed and enjoys its national roots. Others, those with Symphony Orchestra veer towards Holywood film music style and cliches, then get "saved" with some strong South American rhythmic treatment.

He was so very prolific that some unevenness is inevitable. This well filled disc - 79'78" is two seconds short of the absolute maximum - has plenty to enjoy. But buy the one reviewed above first.