Symphonies Nos 8, 9 & 11 São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/ Isaac Karabtchevsky
Naxos 8.573777 73:43 mins
‘What is the matter with this music? Why are we not satisfied?’ So wrote one critic in 1940 when Villa-lobos’s output, as tangled as a Brazilian forest, became actively promoted in North America in the spirit of wartime fellowship. The same questions linger even when he threw classical precedents into the mix, as in these symphonies from the 1950s, premiered by the Philadelphia and Boston orchestras. So many notes, seemingly hurtling nowhere; so many structural cul-de-sacs. For these reasons alone, it’s unwise to listen to this CD in one go.
At the same time, you must be particularly hard-hearted not to warm to at least some of Villa-lobos’s rhythmic, harmonic and instrumental exuberance, especially in the Ninth Symphony from 1952, the shortest and tautest here. As before in his symphony cycle for Naxos, Isaac Karabtchevsky and his São Paulo forces drive through the thick and teeming turmoil with panache. But they also cherish the tender and thinner moments when Villa-lobos’s pulse slackens and lyricism peeks through, as in the quiet corners of the 11th Symphony’s Adagio. A deeper, more flamboyant acoustic might have given these performances extra drama. On the other hand it could equally have made this music even more bewildering. Geoff Brown