Villa-Lobos: Symphony No. 4 (Victory); Symphony No. 12

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COMPOSERS: Villa-Lobos
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 (Victory); Symphony No. 12
PERFORMER: SWR Stuttgart RSO/Carl St Clair
CATALOGUE NO: 999 525-2
Villa Lobos’s Fourth Symphony, composed in 1919 and entitled Victory, opens with crashingly cacophonic drama that immediately arrests the ear. Brazil’s totemic composer based the work upon an ‘argument’ by Escrangola Doria. It is not a slavishly programmatic symphony, though its more filmic qualities soon emerge. Dangerous to quote the ‘Marseillaise’ in the second movement, perhaps, yet Villa-Lobos gets away with it, and builds the movement to a relentless climax which dissipates in sounds – and themes – startlingly redolent of Debussy’s La mer. Meanwhile, the third movement is a wonder of poise and control and the space and freshness in the long fourth movement confirm a rare confidence in his handling of large-scale form, the avoidance of an overwhelming triumphalism and the sustaining of something more thoughtful. Four decades on, and Villa-Lobos’s 12th Symphony has a thrusting, more neo-classical feel about it, though the composer finds it difficult to resist the grand, public gesture. But again the fluency of thought impresses, and one senses a rejoicing in the phenomenon of sound. Both works present a formidable challenge to the SWR RSO, and there are some minor aberrations of attack, tone and tuning. But these are nothing to get too worried about, and under Carl St Clair’s conducting the players throw themselves eagerly into the spirit of this music. Stephen Pettitt