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Villa-Lobos: Choral Transcriptions

São Paulo Symphony Choir/Valentina Peleggi (Naxos)

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

Choral Transcriptions of works by JS Bach, Massenet, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, etc
São Paulo Symphony Choir/Valentina Peleggi
Naxos 8.574286   58:32 mins

While much of Villa-Lobos’s music deserves to be far better known, it is yet remarkable to have a disc where the overwhelming majority of pieces are new to the catalogue. The explanation is that the newcomers are transcriptions for a cappella choir of famous pieces by Beethoven, Chopin, Massenet, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov, Schubert, Schumann and, especially, Bach. Given Villa-Lobos’s close affinity with the last of these it’s no surprise that the various Bach Preludes and Fugues are generally the most convincing transcriptions. If the D major fugue brings The Swingle Singers to mind, the D sharp minor fugue is redolent of polyphony and the B flat minor prelude is especially poignant.

Also effective are Mendelssohn’s E major Song Without Words and the only two pieces with texts, Massenet’s Élégie and, in Portuguese, Schubert’s ‘Ständchen’, the latter having a deliciously swaggering insouciance. More problematic are the transcriptions of various Romantic piano works. The faster sections of Chopin’s C sharp minor Waltz, rather than an outpouring of free-flowing lyricism, evoke intemperate gabbling. Similarly, the imperious drama of Rachmaninov’s C sharp minor Prelude is replaced by farce, opening with absurdly pompous basses followed by what sounds like a flock of ducks. Whether the São Paulo Symphony Choir and their director Valentina Peleggi exacerbate such misfires is a moot point, even if various rough moments of intonation undermine this challenging labour of love. Individual transcriptions are intriguingly impressive, but collectively they are distinctly indigestible.


Christopher Dingle