Many music lovers know that Heitor Villa-Lobos composed a set of works entitled Bachianas Brasileiras, if only because the seductive melody from the fifth work in the set, scored for soprano and eight cellos, is one of classical music's all-time favorites. For those wanting to dig deeper into his music, there's no better place to start than this budget-priced collection of all nine of the Bachianas Brasileiras -- works dating from 1930 to 1945, in which Villa-Lobos brought together the Baroque forms and counterpoint of J. S. Bach with the rhythmic and melodic verve of his native Brazil's folk and popular music. It's often hard to tell where one influence leaves off...
Many music lovers know that Heitor Villa-Lobos composed a set of works entitled Bachianas Brasileiras, if only because the seductive melody from the fifth work in the set, scored for soprano and eight cellos, is one of classical music's all-time favorites. For those wanting to dig deeper into his music, there's no better place to start than this budget-priced collection of all nine of the Bachianas Brasileiras -- works dating from 1930 to 1945, in which Villa-Lobos brought together the Baroque forms and counterpoint of J. S. Bach with the rhythmic and melodic verve of his native Brazil's folk and popular music. It's often hard to tell where one influence leaves off and the other begins: A Bach-like aria might be tinged with Brazilian harmonies, or a folk dance might be transformed into a fugue subject. These recordings by the Nashville Symphony, conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn -- among the final recording sessions he led before his death in 2005 -- are delightful through and through. Villa-Lobos's genius for translucent orchestration is revealed in Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2 -- one of the more familiar of these works, thanks to its picturesque toccata, "The Little Train of the Caipira." But some of the weightier numbers of the bunch are the real beneficiaries of the serious attention they're given here: the stately Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra of the Third; the expansive orchestral landscapes of the Seventh and Eighth; and the grand conclusion of the Ninth, a prelude and fugue for string orchestra. As for the immortal strains of No. 5, soprano Rosana Lamosa's performance is full of evocative charm, and heard amid all its fellow Bachianas Brasileiras, the inspired simplicity and beauty of Villa-Lobos's art seems more magical than ever.
All Music Guide
- James Manheim
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 "Bachianas Brasileiras" are, as the name implies, Brazilian tributes to J.S. Bach. Each movement of each of the nine pieces has a title and a recognizable shape corresponding to a common Baroque form there are several prelude-fugue or toccata-fugue pairs, for instance, plus a Brazilian program or evocative Portuguese tempo indication. No. 2, for example, evokes a train trip across Brazil, and it's a delightful work without a trace of the implacable Futurist grimness of other modern train pieces. Additionally, Villa-Lobos uses Brazilian popular rhythms, sometimes front and center, sometimes lurking in shadow. Yet the nine "Bachianas Brasileiras" sound quite different from one another, and hearing them all illuminates Villa-Lobos' imagination in dealing with a set of ideas that might easily have turned into an exercise. The instrumentation is fundamentally varied, for one thing; No. 1 is for an all-cello orchestra, No. 3 is a piano concerto; No. 6 is for flute and bassoon. Beyond that, Villa-Lobos wrings a whole range of expressive stances and emotional states out of his self-imposed vocabulary. Some movements are dramatic, some have a kind of exotic calm that form a sort of Brazilian counterpart to the evocation of American space that Copland made out of his French training, some are bracing neo-Classic essays. The most interesting insight to come from hearing all the "Bachianas Brasileiras" together, in fact, may be the realization of how French they are in spite of all their Brazilianisms and Baroque moves. Villa-Lobos, like Copland, went to Paris during its glorious 1920s. The Nashville Symphony under Kenneth Schermerhorn is workmanlike and sometimes more -- the cellos do not have the sheen that is often present when the big American orchestras cherry-pick these works, but the performers are comfortable within the modest orchestral dimensions of these pieces, and Schermerhorn avoids the overwrought quality they are sometimes given. The sound, in sessions recorded patchwork over some months in a university auditorium, is subpar, but the set will appeal to the growing body of listeners interested in orchestral music of the Americas.
- Guy Rickards
A fitting tribute to Schermerhorn.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Fine performances.... The late Kenneth Schermerhorn...has left a worthy final undertaking.
- Jeff Simon
A terrific contribution to the world of classical recording.
A fitting tribute to Schermerhorn.