HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS - Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 - Isaac Karabtchevsky

Buy CD from Amazon
HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS - Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 - Isaac Karabtchevsky (Conductor) - Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra - 747313304370 - Released: September 2012 - Naxos 8.573043

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is not only considered the most famous of all Brazilian composers, but is also seen as one of the key figures of 20th century musical development. And yet, when you mention his name, most people can only remember the Bachianas Brasileiras as being one of his major works. Unfortunate when you consider that he wrote some exquisite guitar music, brilliant string quartets and impressive symphonies. Hopefully, this new Naxos recording of his Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7, the first of a projected series of all 12 of this composer's symphonies, will further enhance his reputation as one of the important 20th century symphonists. There are innumerable recordings on the market of the complete sysmphonies of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, etc ... but only one instance of the Villa-Lobos on the CPO label with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. This new Naxos cycle presents two advantageous features. It's on a budget-priced label, and the music is performed by a world class Brazilian orchestra.

The Symphony No. 6 'On the Outline of the Mountains of Brazil' (1944), opens with an uplifting, evocative and sweeping motif (actually worked out on a graph transparency of photographs of the hills of Rio de Janeiro, thus the subtitle) that instantly sets the work's atmosphere and character. The following Lento slowly and mysteriously reveals its intricate and darker orchestral colors and lush imagery, unfurled by the hand of a master. The last two movements, and most particularly the final Allegro, clearly demonstrate Villa-Lobos' skills at creating a seamless blend of traditional South American culture and European society.

Add North America to the mix in the Symphony No. 7 (1945), a work submitted to the Detroit Symphony as part of a composition competition. It's scored for a much bigger orchestra, including a piano, two harps and a Hammond Novachord, considered to be the first electronic synthesizer. Although only a year separates the two symphonies, they are worlds apart in conception and character. The 7th already points to a more abstact, purely musical, thematic layout and development. It is much broader in concept, harmonically complex and bolder in its imagery, and benefits from a wealth of rhythmic and melodic ideas. The piano brings an added texture to the work's fabric, and the Novachord (heard near the end of the Scherzo), which almost sounds like a whistling wind machine, certainly adds an extra dimension to the orchestration without seeming out of place. The final movement's complex counterpoint is certainly indicative of this composer's admiration for the music of Bach, and drives the whole symphony to a powerful finish.

This is a welcome addition to the Naxos catalogue, as well as a welcome recording of these neglected symphonies, and definitely a strong start to a promising new Villa-Lobos cycle.

Jean-Yves Duperron - October 2012