WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 9; Ouverture de l’homme tel
PERFORMER: SWR RSO Stuttgart/Carl St Clair
CATALOGUE NO: 999 712-2
This latest instalment in CPO’s Villa-Lobos symphonies series maintains the standard of previous issues, and the works themselves maintain our interest in them. Even if they don’t seem among the Brazilian master’s most striking achievements, there’s plenty of characteristic invention on hand – and as it happens this particular coupling handily spans the various phases of his career. The Symphony No. 3 (1919) is the first of an early trilogy inspired by the Great War, as occasional fanfares and echoes of the Marseillaise testify. It’s only programmatic in the broadest sense, though the naive pictorialism of the polyrhythmic and polytonal finale, ‘A batalha’, makes it a fascinating period piece. The work is also remarkable for a powerful, long-sustained slow movement (subtitled ‘Suffering’) which features broad, extended chorale-like writing as well as reminiscences of Siegfried’s funeral march.
The comparatively brief Ninth Symphony (1952) is by contrast a pithy and effective example of the later Villa-Lobos’s rainforest neo-classicism, generous with ideas and lush of harmony while paradoxically rather taut in form and rhythmically pointed. Though completed in the same year, the Ouverture de l’homme tel is actually a reworking of part of a surrealist song cycle of 1929, redolent more of the Parisian avant-garde among whom it was originally composed. Performance and recording are decent rather than great, but it’s a worthwhile issue. Calum MacDonald