WORKS: Concerto for Strings; Suite for Strings; Bachianas brasileiras No. 9; Airs d’Espagne
PERFORMER: I Musici de Montréal/Yuli Turovsky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9434 DDD
If you are looking for the sounds of South America, then much of the Villa-Lobos here could disappoint. He may be fêted as the man who brought the songs of the Brazilian street and the Amazon jungle to classical music, but these are little in evidence on either disc. His bombastic Symphony No. 4 (Victory) is derivative to a fault – a sort of Saint-Saëns meets Malcolm Arnold in downtown Rio – and while full of rousing tunes, it mostly coasts along with brassy marches or dense, racy string writing and little development.
The Cello Concerto, on the other hand, brings out a more introspective lyricism. Villa-Lobos, himself a cellist, has left behind a rich repertoire for both solo and ensemble cello, not least the moving Bachianas brasileiras, whose grave, fugal complexities have rightly made them his most famous pieces. The cantilena in the second movement and the highly stylised tango-like music of the first are beautifully rendered by Díaz, though his cello sound is, unfortunately, rather boxed in. But the prolific Villa-Lobos could not be accused of standing still: nothing illustrates this so well as comparing his Suite for Strings (1912) and the Amazonas ballet music. The first is a charming but tentative exercise in neo-classicism; the second an arresting Brazilian Rite of Spring, complete with menacing wind ostinati, the watery sounds of his invented violinophone and glockenspiel, and a virgin Indian girl ripe for sacrifice. As he wrote, ‘After Amazonas, I lost all modesty and shyness for writing daring things.’
True daring is revealed in Ginastera’s Concerto for Strings and Evangelista’s Airs d’Espagne respectively. Ginastera’s fresh approach to the string concerto gives each solo instrument a soliloquy: six small concertos in one, each subtly adventurous. Evangelista’s airs are just that: tiny melodies from folk life, undeveloped or decorated but rendered authentically Moorish by their phase-like heterophony. Helen Wallace