Villa-Lobos: Uirapurú; Bachianas brasileiras No. 4; The Emperor Jones

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Villa-Lobos
LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: Uirapurú; Bachianas brasileiras No. 4; The Emperor Jones
PERFORMER: Odense SO/Jan Wagner
CATALOGUE NO: 9129
There’s South American rhythm and atmosphere aplenty on these CDs, but there’s more to both composers than simple musical tourism – Villa-Lobos used the inspiration of Bach to give his music contrapuntal strength; Ginastera flirted with 12-note technique all his life, and his final works embrace serialism completely. But fear not, the pieces on this CD all date from his earlier years, and dashes of dissonance merely spice up the basic tonal language. He’s very good at the exciting rhythmic lash-up – the more vigorous dances from Estancia or the moto perpetuo middle movement of Pampeana get up a real head of steam, though the playing here isn’t always incisive enough. And Ginastera can certainly generate atmosphere, if of a rather generalised kind. In the outer movements of Pampeana and much of Ollantay there’s some evocative stuff, sensitively recorded, but I miss any memorable melody, except in the delicious (and deliciously played) ‘Danza del trigo’ from Estancia.

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Not that there’s a real tune anywhere in Villa-Lobos’s Uirapurú either, but there’s greater imagination in the scoring and a more varied structure to compensate. Even without knowing that its inspiration came from hearing the Ballets Russes in 1917, the echoes of Stravinsky’s Firebird leap out at you, though with a Brazilian rather than a Russian accent. A pity that the performance sometimes lacks rhythmic co-ordination and good intonation, as it also does in The Emperor Jones, Villa-Lobos’s last ballet. In the Bachianas brasileiras, the contrapuntal lines inspire more coherent playing, though there’s nothing ascetic about this music: the harmonies will definitely appeal to the sweet-toothed. Good musical dessert, but you’ll have to find a main course somewhere else. Martin Cotton