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VILLA-LOBOS: Bachianas brasileiras (Complete)


Naxos 8.557460-62

   Penguin Guide, January 2009
   Patriot Ledger, May 2006
   Fanfare, May 2006
   The New York Times, January 2006
   San Francisco Chronicle, January 2006
   Newark Star-Ledger, December 2005
   Miami Herald, December 2005
   The Dallas Morning News, December 2005
   Denver Post, December 2005
   St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 2005
   MusicWeb International, December 2005
   Tampa Tribune, December 2005
   Bay Area Reporter, December 2005
   Allmusic.com, December 2005
   Chicago Tribune, December 2005
   Infodad.com, December 2005
   December 2005
   The Stranger (Seattle, WA), December 2005
   The Buffalo News, December 2005
   Gramophone, December 2005
   ClassicsToday.com, November 2005

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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The present issue makes an excellent introduction to the composer, and its three CDs assemble the nine Bachianas brasileiras he composed between 1930 and 1945. They were conceived as homage to Bach and range from instrumental and chamber pieces (like the First for an orchestra of cellos, the Fifth for voice and eight cellos, and the Sixth for flute and bassoon) to larger orchestra and Nos. 7 and 8 for orchestra). They are all highly original and mostly colourful, and they are very well played. José Feghali is an excellent soloist in the Third, as is Rosana Lamosa in the well-known Fifth. The Nashville Orchestra respond with enthusiasm to Kenneth Schermerhorn who, alas, died before he could complete all nine pieces, and the First, which had been left to last, was conducted by Andrew Mogrelia.



Peter M. Knapp
Patriot Ledger, May 2006

The beautiful Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 of Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) for eight cellos and soprano is probably the imaginative Brazilian composer’s best-known piece. The other eight Bachianas Brasileiras compositions, written at various times between 1930 and 1944, are scarcely known. Thus, it’s a treat to hear the complete set in an exceptional Naxos recording by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn. Villa-Lobos was Brazil’s greatest composer. In his Bachianas Brasileiras series he paid tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach in unique compositions that combine the flavor, style and musical forms of the German baroque master with songs, dances and impressions of Brazil. Recorded in 2004 and 2005, the ambitious three-CD set evidently was the last major project of Schermerhorn, who conducted the Nashville Symphony for more than 20 years before his death. Schermerhorn (1929-2005) studied with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, where he won the prestigious Koussevitzky Prize, then became Bernstein’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic. In Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 (conducted by Andrew Mogrelia), one is immediately one is struck by the extraordinary originality of the series. First, there is the scoring, for an orchestra of cellos, the composer honoring Bach’s great cello suites while exploiting the instrument’s sounds and expressive qualities. Then there is the music, serving Bach well with soulful tunes, pulsating rhythms and intricate counterpoint. It’s a beautiful, instantly appealing piece. Another favorite is No. 4, originally written for piano solo and orchestrated in 1941. Lovely melody courses through this gem from the opening Preludio with its warmly romantic tune played with plush strings. In the second movement, ‘‘Coral (Sound of the Bush),’’ Villa-Lobos works in a bird call. No. 2 opens with a bluesy song and ends with colorful ‘‘train music’’ depicting a steam locomotive chugging through rural northeastern Brazil. No. 3, featuring pianist José Feghali, evokes the improvisatory nature of Bach’s fantasias in its dialogue between orchestra and keyboard. The famous No. 5 showcases Brazilian soprano Rosana Lamosa, Villa-Lobos treating the singer like an instrument carrying the melody in a high-flying vocalize over the cellos’ rhythmic background. While No. 7 culminates in a massive, sonorous fugue, it and No. 8, written for large orchestra are less interesting, sounding overblown. But Villa-Lobos wound up the series masterfully with the swinging fugue of No. 9, a 10-minute work for string orchestra written in 1944.



Fanfare, May 2006

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Bernard Holland
The New York Times, January 2006

THERE is a theory (mine) that the quality of a country's classical music is inversely proportional to the quality of its popular and folk music. Thus, the authors of "Ach, du Lieber Augustin" come from the same stock as Bach and Beethoven. On the other hand, Brazil (Caetano Veloso and bossa nova), Argentina (Astor Piazzolla and the tango) and the United States (Irving Berlin and ragtime) bless the world with pop music of extraordinary subtlety but produce nothing near the level of Schubert. (Gershwin at his best comes close.) Maybe foursquare country tunes are too weak to resist the will of classical composers, while the likes of Cole Porter are not to be pushed around by anybody. No one worked harder at making the musical richness of the Americas dance to the tune of European classical tradition than the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. The nine suites, or whatever you wish to call them, known as the "Bachianas Brasileiras" are gathered in a three-CD Naxos release with the Nashville Symphony conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn. These are solid but not overwhelmingly superior performances. Yet it is instructive to have all these pieces next to one another for purposes of comparison. Villa-Lobos, who died in 1959, spent years in Europe and a lot of devotion on traditional Central European forms and contrapuntal conventions. One hears them everywhere in these two-, three- and four-movement pieces: stately sequential phrases like Baroque terraces and whole movements that are fugal, or fuguelike, in their tone and arrangement. But one hears Brazil as well. The Baroque phrases sing with a near-theatrical emotionalism, and dance movements take their rhythms from the streets; with layers added on layers, they build like crowd scenes. The second of the "Bachianas Brasileiras" begins with saxophone solos and bluesy portamento and ends with a brilliant piece of tone painting called "O Trenzinho do Caipira," a rendering of a locomotive's trip through northeastern Brazil - complete with whistles, bells, a chugging engine and hissing steam. Music like this, along with the famous "Bachiana Brasileira" No. 5 for soprano and eight cellos, have an unembarrassed directness: a hotline to one's folk roots that one rarely finds in European musical culture. Not all this music works equally well. One often hears a Brazilian composer who wants too much to be Vivaldi or Mendelssohn. At his best Villa-Lobos exercises a controlled and sophisticated primitivism that catches the bright colors of his own country. At his worst, he regurgitates second-hand classical style. Mr. Schermerhorn, who died last April, and his Nashville players are honorable performers here. I do not think Rosana Lamosa's generous vibrato or the placement of her voice on this recording is right for the music. Also, José Feghali is a first-rate pianist, but the "Bachiana Brasileira" No. 3, which features him, is not the composer's most interesting music. Villa-Lobos had an abiding tendency toward dark colors, and Anthony LaMarchina does well by the cello parts.



Steven Winn
San Francisco Chronicle, January 2006

Hector Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasileiras," composed from 1930 to '45, is known to most listeners, if at all, in colorful snatches. In this welcome recording of all nine sections on three discs, the late Kenneth Schermerhorn and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra make a persuasive case for this fusion of Bach and Brazil. Gigues, toccatas, fugues and other Baroque forms take on the enlivening tint of folk tunes, dance-band orchestrations, sultry timbres, meandering vocals and percussive outbursts. The piece has its discursive patches, and the Nashville musicians can sound sluggish at times. But there is also a winning ardor throughout, in the warm string tones, fond quotations from Bach or mock keening of a slide trombone. The woodwinds banter cheerfully. Cellos and a saxophone gleam. Soprano Rosana Lamosa reprises the cantilena in the fifth "Bachianas" with a bittersweet nostalgia.



Bradley Bambarger
Newark Star-Ledger, December 2005

Gil Shaham, violin; Berlin Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado, conductor. (EuroArts DVD) Each season, the Berlin Philharmonic plays a "Europa-Konzert" in a special continental hall. In 2002, the orchestra -- led by Claudio Abbado -- played Palermo, Italy's gorgeous Teatro Massimo. The soloist is Gil Shaham, whose intense double-stopping and legato poetry thrills in the Brahms Violin Concerto. Also on the menu are Beethoven and Verdi overtures, as well as Dvorák's "New World" Symphony. The visuals are stunning, the surround sound warm yet clear. As with each "Europa-Konzert" DVD, the disc includes a fascinating documentary on the host city.

Villa-Lobos: "Bachianas Brasileiras" Rosana Lamosa, soprano; José Feghali, piano; Nashville Symphony, Kenneth Schermerhorn, conductor. (Naxos) In folk-flecked homage to Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos," Heitor Villa-Lobos composed his nine diverse, delicious "Bachianas Brasileiras." There are fine recordings of these individual concertos, although previous complete sets are hard to find and flawed. But this collection is readily available, inexpensive and has modern sound, not to mention some alluring performances -- especially from Nashville's mellow saxophone section. The most famous concerto -- the fifth, for soprano and eight cellos -- disappoints here, but alternatives for that are plentiful. On the whole, this three-CD set offers hours of uncommon aural bliss.

Puccini: "Gianni Schicchi" Alessandro Corbelli, Gianni Schicchi; Sally Matthews, Lauretta; Massimo Giordano, Rinuccio; Felicity Palmer, Zita; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski, conductor. (Opus Arte DVD) Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" is the subtly modern, darkly comic gem from his "Il Trittico" triptych of one-acters. Annabel Arden's 2004 Glyndebourne staging is a classy delight, blessed with an ideal ensemble of singer-actors. Like all Opus Arte opera DVDs, this title comes with high-definition picture, rich surround sound, an in-depth booklet and extras that include interviews with Arden and conductor Vladimir Jurowski. It's a hugely entertaining package.



Lawrence_A._Johnson
Miami Herald, December 2005

Bach and Liszt keyboard works. Lise de la Salle, pianist (Naïve). Just 16 when she made this recording, the French pianist Lise de la Salle shows remarkable artistic maturity, bringing a luminous purity and natural eloquence to Bach as well as a spirituality and daunting bravura in Liszt.



The Dallas Morning News, December 2005

Wagner Parsifal (Opus Arte DVDs) Nikolaus Lehnhoff's grim staging doesn't help, but these days you'd be hard-pressed to beat a cast of Christopher Ventris (Parsifal), Matti Salminen (Gurnemanz) and Waltraud Meier (Kundry), and Kent Nagano conducts eloquently. Stunning high-definition video and audio.

Bolcom Songs of Innocence and Experience (Naxos) William Bolcom's huge setting of William Blake's most famous poems is a contemporary American masterpiece, juxtaposing styles maniacally but never losing its integrity or individuality. Fun on a first listening, but permanently satisfying.

Vivaldi Orlando furioso (Naïve) Vivaldi's operas are coming into their own after nearly 300 years, and this one gets what may be the best recording ever of a baroque opera. Great singers, great music.

Bach Violin Sonatas and Partitas Two great performances, as different from each other as night and day, emerged simultaneously. Gidon Kremer (ECM New Series) makes them craggy and quirky; young Julia Fischer (PentaTone) makes them strong and silken.

Monteverdi L'Incoronazione di Poppea (Opus Arte DVD) Christophe Rousset conducts a 1994 Amsterdam production of Monteverdi's mordant, insightful masterpiece of love and intrigue. Fantastic singers, all theatrically convincing.



Kyle MacMillan
Denver Post, December 2005

"Michael Daugherty Philadelphia Stories - UFO," Evelyn Glennie, percussion, Colorado Symphony, Marin Alsop, conductor, Naxos. This recording has won the CSO its first nomination for a Grammy Award.

"Mozart: Violin Concertos," Julia Fischer, violin, Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Yakov Kreizberg, conductor, Pentatone. Fischer shows again that she is an up-and-comer to watch as she burrows into the heart of the violin repertoire.



Sarah Bryan Miller
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 2005

The music of Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is best known in the wordless section of the "Bachianas Brasileiras" No. 5 for voice and eight cellos. Actually, there are nine "Bachianas," all of them serving both as homage to J.S. Bach and an exploration of the musical idioms of Villa-Lobos' native Brazil. "Bachianas Brasileiras (Complete)" (Lamosa, Feghali; Nashville Symphony Orchestra; Schermerhorn; Naxos 8.557460-62; three CDs) gives them to us in order and in fine performances.

The soprano, Rosana Lamosa, is actually the weakest link in the recording, which also features pianist Jose Feghali and various principal players in the NSO. The late Kenneth Schermerhorn, who died before he could complete the project (the first "Bachianas" is therefore conducted by Andrew Mogrelia) has left a worthy final undertaking.



Patrick C Waller
MusicWeb International, December 2005

"Villa-Lobos was much the most important South-American composer with an output numbering more than one thousand works. His style was distinctive, drawing liberally on the exotic rhythms and harmonies of Brazilian folk music. He was also influenced by a period spent in Paris. Most of his music remains little known (for example his twelve symphonies) and there must be many worthwhile yet unrecorded works.

The set of nine Bachianas Brasileiras are his most famous pieces but it is hard to escape the feeling that even they have not done all that well on disc. This is first complete set to be issued on CD at less than full price. Currently there seems to be only one other complete set available and that is conducted by Isaac Karabtchewsky on Iris Music. Enrique Bátiz recorded them all for EMI in the 1980s but that has been deleted and, recently, attempting to collect a complete set may have been a frustrating exercise. So the market was just crying out for this release.

The Bachianas Brasileiras rarely quote directly from Bach’s works but use contrapuntal techniques and forms such as the Fugue or are more subtly evocative of his music. They remain patently Brazilian in spirit and were written over a fifteen year period from 1930. All have multiple movements with quite a variety of instrumentation specified although seven are essentially orchestral works. The exceptions are the most famous, No. 5, which is for voice and eight cellos. There’s also No. 6, one of the least well known, which is for the unusual combination of flute and bassoon. They are not in any way a “cycle” and should be dipped into according to the mood of the moment.

Villa-Lobos was a cellist in his youth and unsurprisingly was often inclined to give the instrument an important role. In the first Bachianas Brasileiras he took this to an extreme by setting it for “an orchestra of cellos”. The size of that orchestra here is not stated but seems relatively small, perhaps just the cello section of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and a few friends. Never mind, the playing is fabulous and I liked the relatively lean approach which does not over-romanticise the music. Despite that, the big tune in the middle movement is lush enough and ineffably bittersweet. This excellent performance was the last to be recorded and was conducted by Andrew Mogrelia. The principal conductor of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Kenneth Schermerhorn (who was in charge for the rest of the orchestral works), had died less than a month previously. I think Schermerhorn would have been pleased with the result and proud of his cellos.

By contrast, the chamber orchestra specified for No. 2 seems rather large but, again, this does not seem out of place and the playing is also at a very high standard. This is in four movements and is famous for the last, which depicts a steam train chugging across Brazil. No. 3 is for piano and orchestra and also in four movements; it is the most substantial work of the set. The piano part is virtually continuous and very demanding. The pianist José Feghali is a native of Brazil who made his debut at the age of five and is now primarily based in the USA. His contribution is most effective and extends to a credit for editing the recording of this work. Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 was originally for the piano and orchestrated later, the form in which it is now usually heard. Listening to the wonderful instrumentation it is hard to imagine the work on the piano alone and, for me, work is the pick of the set (with No. 7 not far behind). Tilson Thomas has made a very fine recording of this work but Schermerhorn is by no means eclipsed.

In No. 5 there are two movements - Cantilena set to a text by Ruth Valdares Corrêa and Dansa for which the text is by Manoel Bandeira. The soprano is Rosa Lamorna and Anthony La Marchina leads the accompaniment of cellos. Their rendition is slightly cool, perhaps not ravishing enough but good in the more exciting passages. No. 6 is the baby of the family, again in two brief movements and taking inspiration from Bach’s Two-Part Inventions and Brazilian street music. There is very fine playing on offer from Erik Gratton and Cynthia Estill.

Bachianas Brasileiras Nos. 7, 8 and 9 are all orchestral although the last has only strings and is relatively short. They represent a powerful conclusion to the series and receive very convincing performances here. Overall, my feeling is that Schermerhorn was at least the equal of Bátiz in this repertoire; both have a firm grip on the rather loose structures and secure idiomatic playing. The recordings are very decent too with impressive depth and natural perspectives. Documentation is good and texts are provided for No. 5 with an English translation.

There must be quite a few music-lovers who know only the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 and have wondered about the rest. They are in for a treat – here are eight other fascinating and varied works which are at the same level of inspiration. This release should motivate them to bite the bullet although existing recording(s) of No. 5 may need to be retained. Overall, this set is highly recommended, a considerable bargain and a fine memorial to Kenneth Schermerhorn.

For lovers of Villa-Lobos, this is a very important release and I hope that Naxos will further explore his orchestral music. In that context it is worth mentioning that they have an excellent ongoing series of his piano music played by Sonia Rubinsky. Norbert Craft’s disc of guitar music is also a winner (8.553987). Finally, Schermerhorn previously also recorded two of the Choros (Nos. 8 and 9) for Naxos with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (8.555241) - another splendid bargain. These are the obvious places to go after having savoured this set."



Kurt Loft
Tampa Tribune, December 2005

William Grant Still - "Afro-American" Symphony; Fort Smith Symphony, John Jeter, conductor (Naxos) The first symphony by a black composer to be played by a major orchestra, the "Afro-American" galvanized Still's career and brought credibility to the efforts of blacks in the concert hall. Still's openly lyric style weaves spirituals, blues and jazz into an eminently accessible score. The disc includes his imaginative travelogue "Africa" and "In Memoriam," which pays homage to black soldiers killed in World War II. John Dowland - "A Dream"; Hopkinson Smith, lute (Naive) Dowland, the English Orpheus, wrote lavishly for the lute, the instrument of choice for people on the move four centuries ago. These 20 pieces are miniatures of melancholy, intimate portraits of a composer whose notes paint a life on the edge of despair. Smith's fleet-fingered technique on his eight-course instrument, and a warmly recorded acoustic, make this a disc to savor late at night. Johannes Brahms - Symphony No. 1; London Symphony, Marin Alsop, conductor (Naxos) Brahms wrote the most famous first symphony in all of music, and plenty of recordings justify his effort. So why another? Because Alsop lets the music breathe through a natural cadence and flow but spikes arresting tensions into the outer movements. The result makes this one of the surprise recordings of the year. J.S. Bach/Franz Liszt - Piano works; Lise de la Salle, piano (Naive) Where many pianists go crashing through Bach's famous "Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue," la Salle opts for hushed intensity, and she tackles the polyphony of the D major Toccata with a maturity far beyond her 16 years. She ends the 11-track disc with a riveting performance of Liszt's "Mephisto Waltz." Kurt Weill - Symphonies 1 and 2; Bournemouth Symphony, Marin Alsop, conductor (Naxos) Best known to American listeners as the composer of "Mack the Knife," Weill could spin Broadway tunes with the same ease as those twisted in acid tonality. His Second Symphony is a jarring - and neglected - masterpiece, played with urgency by the Bournemouth musicians. The disc includes Weill's "Lady in the Dark" and "Symphonic Nocturne."



Stephanie von Buchau
Bay Area Reporter, December 2005

If you only know the "Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5" (for soprano and eight cellos) or the toccata from no. 2 ("The Little Train of Caipira") that's less than one-third of the nine pieces Villa-Lobos wrote in homage to Bach--employing native Brazilian idioms. This lovely recording of the complete set--Schermerhorn's swan song--is available at a bargain price--get one for yourself, too.



James Manheim
Allmusic.com, December 2005

All too often, box sets with the complete this or the collected that represent a by-the-pound mentality that's ultimately destructive to classical music, a substitute for intelligent program selection that entertains and instructs. The nine "Bachianas Brasileiras" of Heitor Villa-Lobos, however, may be the exception. Often excerpted (the two-movement No. 5, for voice and eight cellos is the most famous, with its Yma Sumac-like opening vocalise), they give the listener something more to think about when played from start to finish -- they reveal the variety of which Villa-Lobos was capable even when working within the triple set of constraints he established for himself. . . . The Nashville Symphony under Kenneth Schermerhorn . . . are comfortable within the modest orchestral dimensions of these pieces, and Schermerhorn avoids the overwrought quality they are sometimes given. . . . the set will appeal to the growing body of listeners interested in orchestral music of the Americas.



John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune, December 2005

As their titles suggest, the nine works Heitor Villa-Lobos designated as "Bachianas Brasileiras" were his elaborate way of paying homage to his beloved Johann Sebastian Bach--through the rhythms, colors and textures of Brazilian folk and popular music. The pieces range from instrumental and chamber to fully orchestral . . . (these performances) capture the music's vivacious spirit in a convincing manner.



Infodad.com, December 2005

This set is a considerable achievement and a worthy tribute to Kenneth Schermerhorn, who died April 18 after more than 20 years at the helm of the Nashville Symphony. The Bachianas Brasileiras are a considerable achievement themselves, created by Heitor Villa-Lobos over a 15-year period (1930-1945) as a tribute to Bach and an attempt to meld Bach’s forms and musical purity to the folk tunes and popular culture of 20th-century Brazil. . . . The blending of Bach and Brazil is always fascinating, the music is unusual and effective, and these performances are excellent in every respect.



David Mead
December 2005

The single greatest virtue in Schermerhorn's work, for me, is orchestral tone that is never self-indulgent, but is rich and elegant as chocolate mousse. Some of the nine pieces explore the tone colors within a narrow range, for example, the two with cellos. Where a full instrumental compliment is used, there are flashes and sparkles of tone color, especially in the woodwinds and, of course, the percussion. When the Nashville Symphony's noisemakers get rolling in the livelier dance movements, surely no listener will be able to sit still.



Chris DeLaurenti
The Stranger (Seattle, WA), December 2005

We have long needed a good modern recording of the complete Bachianas Brasileiras, and this set fills the bill nicely . . . The orchestra's sheer professionalism, allied to Schermerhorn's lively and sympathetic response to the composer's idiom, pays big dividends here . . . all credit goes to Naxos, Schermerhorn, the orchestra, and conductor Andrew Mogrelia (in No. 1) for giving us a wonderful new cycle of this richly rewarding and vibrant music at a price that everyone can afford.



Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, December 2005

He is one of the greatest of Western Hemisphere composers and this is his greatest music, a series of varied compositions that came into being when he was struck by the similarities of Brazilian folk melodies and the melodies of Bach . . . they're budget-priced and awfully good and the music is magnificent - important is not too strong a word.



Gramophone, December 2005

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David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, November 2005

We have long needed a good modern recording of the complete Bachianas Brasileiras, and this set fills the bill nicely . . . The orchestra's sheer professionalism, allied to Schermerhorn's lively and sympathetic response to the composer's idiom, pays big dividends here . . . all credit goes to Naxos, Schermerhorn, the orchestra, and conductor Andrew Mogrelia (in No. 1) for giving us a wonderful new cycle of this richly rewarding and vibrant music at a price that everyone can afford.






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