VILLA-LOBOS

BBC Music Magazine - - REVIEWS -

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

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