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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, 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.

D Moore
American Record Guide, February 2007

Here is some lovely and unusual material. Two pieces are new to me: the lovely and atmospheric Quintet for flute, string trio, and harp of 1957 and the imaginative Duo for violin and viola of 1946. The Jet Whistle for flute and cello of 1950 is better known. The Quintet and the Duo are both about 16 minutes, while The Jet Whistle is 10.

The 'Song of the Black Swan' is known to me as a piece for cello and piano. Here it is played on violin and harp, though the violin plays it in the cello range. Since this three­minute piece isn't listed either in Groves or Bakers, I can't tell if it is the composer's transcription or not. Liner notes from some of the cello performances indicate that it was for cello and piano, transcribed by the composer for violin and piano, but that the tune comes from an earlier orchestral tone poem, so the harp may be in the original.

The question tends to arise because the rest of the program is transcriptions by the flutist for flute and harp of five songs from various periods. The liner notes are not informative. The music is unfailingly attractive and interesting, as I would expect from this composer. And Mobius is a fine group.

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