, March 2007
Running from the 1917 Song of the Black Swan to the Quintette, written two years before his death, this is an engaging selection of Villa-Lobos’s chamber music. It’s selected with care and ensures there is plenty of variety. And it’s played – no less – with understanding of the idiom.
The Jet Whistle is cast for flute and cello and makes for a mellifluous and delightful entrée. With its baroque-evoking patterns and with the flute pirouetting over the cello line, this is a life-enhancing piece. The warm lyricism of the central movement is decidedly Francophile and the finale an exciting terpsichorean one, tinged with jazz. The Quintette instrumental was one of his very last completed works; you’d never know. The harmonies are deft and the whiff of Paris is never far away. As a composition it’s full of generous ardour – nothing is solemn or unnecessarily reticent. There’s a Nocturne complete with birdcalls and a ruminative “Cello and the Nightingales” aura – the beautiful harp patterns presage the chiming of the clock. The finale even indulges some Middle Eastern moments – terrifically verdant and fulsome writing and nothing is overstated or unwelcome.
The 1946 Duo for violin and viola is a work that has remained rather too well hidden. That’s a real shame as it has plenty to offer the inquisitive player – it would do excellently in a quartet evening for example where a little imaginative programming could yield great rewards. Counterpoint is the obvious feature but so too a real and yearning lyricism – reminiscent of Vaughan Williams in modal mood. The interweaving of lines is accomplished with the utmost skill and balance and this performance is thoroughly successful in exploring its lyric heartland.
The songs are heard in the arrangements by two members of Mobius, flautist Lorna McGhee and harpist Alison Nicholls. They range from melancholy to sultry to warm and lulling - and back to the delights of tristesse. Naturally they’re played by their arrangers with artful sensitivity. Song of the Black Swan is an early work and tenderly lyric, though played here with too intense a vibrato.
Recording and programming values are high here – a splendid recital of some hard-to-resist Villa-Lobos.