About this Recording
8.557765 - VILLA-LOBOS: Chamber Music
English  German 

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Chamber Music

 

It is no underestimation to say that Heitor Villa-Lobos put Brazilian, and South American music as a whole, on the cultural map, through an output that he himself compared to the vastness and diversity of his own country. Yet the composer who travelled widely in Brazil and the Caribbean, absorbing ethnic idioms at first hand, also won immediate and lasting respect from many European musicians for his innovative and stylistically inclusive music.

Although his output is as expansive as it is diverse, many of his works fall into well-defined groups or series. Primary among these are twelve symphonies, seventeen string quartets and two titled series – the fourteen Chôros and the nine Bachianas brasileiras (Naxos 8.557460-62), which latter are the most significant fruits of his desire to synthesize aspects of contemporary Western music with the idioms of his native Brazil. On a generally more modest scale, but equally characteristic of his creativity, are the numerous chamber works that inform his output at all stages, reaching, in his later years, a very considerable level of refinement that sacrifices nothing either in formal clarity or expressive immediacy.

The Jet Whistle (1950) is a perfect example of Villa-Lobos’s chamber composition from his last years. The first movement opens with an expressive cello melody, variously commented on by the flute, which then embarks upon its own continuation. The process is repeated as before, bringing with it a decisive closing cadence. The slow second movement finds the instruments wistfully intertwined, then, in the finale, the ruminative is made boisterous as the two voices embark on an engaging, even capricious dialogue that culminates with flute vanishing off the top of its compass while cello remains unmoved.

Quintette instrumental (1957) is among the composer’s very last chamber works, though it shows no sign of fatigue. It opens with a moderately paced movement that makes the most of the lush sonorities inherent in the ensemble. Harmonically too this is a good deal more elaborate than the previous work, the music proceeding as an intricate network of counterpoint, in which strings share the thematic material against spirited arabesques from flute and harp. The middle movement has the distinct character of a nocturne, with harmonics in the strings and flecks of tone from other instruments evoking a calm, moonlit atmosphere. The music takes on a definite modal quality as the textures become fuller, culminating in a lyrical outpouring that at length returns to the inward musing heard at the outset. The finale opens with the greatest contrast, its lithe vigour drawing all five instruments into animated discussion, though a more relaxed melody soon emerges on cello. These themes are then freely combined, before the second returns on viola, and the first presently re-emerges to end the work with a spirited flourish.

Song of the Black Swan (1917) is an attractively wistful miniature, though the swan itself is very different from the death-haunted creature evoked by Sibelius in one of his most famous pieces. Over a swirling harp accompaniment, the violin unfolds a pensive but intensely felt melody that aptly evokes the mood of the title. The closing harp chords allow the music to fade delicately into silence.

The Duo for Violin and Viola (1946) can take its place with a select handful of substantial pieces for these two instruments, including two duos each by Mozart and MartinÛ. The first movement begins with an intricately-worked counterpoint between the instruments, individual melodies only gradually emerging from the discourse. The initial music then returns as a kind of refrain, presaging a lively passage in which violin and viola pursue each other in imitation, before a return to the opening brings them together in decisive accord. The ensuing Adagio is one of the composer’s most haunting inspirations. Against the softly dissonant violin accompaniment, the viola spins out a gravely sonorous theme that before long is shared between the two instruments. The interplay is gradually reduced down to only a few spare chords, then the initial music resumes to take the movement through to a pensive close. Opening assertively, the finale builds a cumulative intensity through the way the character of each instrument is contrasted and combined. Vigorous unison writing gradually gains the upper hand, but the movement defies expectations by choosing to end on a tonally ambiguous cadence.

The Five Songs for Flute and Harp, which date from 1926 to 1950, appear here in an arrangement for flute and harp.Vida Formosa opens with deliberate harp chords, against which the flute unwinds a thoughtful, even melancholic theme whose final phrases take on a distinct folk inflection. Nesta Rua has a more flowing harp accompaniment, with the flute unfolding a melody that sounds a note of gentle pathos. Modinha is the shortest of the sequence, and features a plaintive melody that is the more affecting for its lightly syncopated harp contribution. Chanson de Cristal is correspondingly the longest of the five, its sprightly opening gesture leading into a delicate series of exchanges that is given direction by the music’s harmonic and rhythmic clarity. Canção de Marinheiro rounds off the whole sequence with a poignant flute melody that builds to a brief emotional apex, before subsiding back to where it began.

Richard Whitehouse


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