Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was an auto-didact musician and composer with a life-long love for Bach who managed to compose some 2000 works. After immersing himself in basic music theory and cello playing for a few months at age 11 with lessons from his Father, he never enrolled in a music academy. Instead, he worked with choroes (the itinerant folk musicians of Rio de Janeiro), by playing the guitar which he also took with him during his various tours of the Brazilian hinterlands, absorbing what music he could of his native country. After developing a nearly Bartokian command of his nation's folk music, he took some brief musical instruction from a visiting Darius Milhaud in 1918. Further assistance was provided in the 1920's during a lengthy sojourn in Paris: where he met and mingled with some of the many great composers living there at the time (Ravel, Stravinsky, the Les Six composers, de Falla).
Out of this plethora of diverse musical experiences emerged a unique blend of atmospheric Brazilian music heavily influenced by Bach, Villa-Lobos' first love. I find it a compelling blend, especially when I need some serious cheering up. This two disc, budget priced Villa-Lobos sampler contains a wide ranging, though by no means exhaustive, collection of various aspects of his musical persona. It is weighted towards his piano music, with Disc one offering some fine performances of the Bachianas brasileiras No.3 and Momoprecoce - Fantasy for piano and orchestra. Cristina Ortiz is the pianist and Vladimir Ashkenazy leads the New Philharmonia. These are beautifully played recordings, with that lucious blend of counterpoint and tropical exhuberance that informs all of Villa-Lobos' best music. Disc two features the Fantasia for soprano saxophone and chamber orchestra, John Harle on Sax with Neville Marriner conducting the ASMF. This jaunty, lyrically lovely piece is the finest soprano sax piece I've heard (there aren't many). It is well played here. This is followed by the splendid Concerto for guitar and small orchestra. Angel Romero is the guitarist with Jesus Lopez-Cobos leading the LPO. This is a knockout of a performance! Rhythmic and soulful. One of the great 20th Century guitar concertos. The piece was composed in 1951 (with a monumental cadenza added in 1956) for Segovia. Some assorted piano pieces, especially A prole do bebe No.1, all nicely played by Ms. Ortiz, rounds out this lovely disc.
The performances are all excellent. Sound is clear but occasionally somewhat distant because the recordings were made from 1974 to 1990, a wide range indeed. They are variably ADD/DDD recordings and you can tell the difference, slightly. The sound is never less than good, however, so it's not really an issue. This compilation cheers me up every time I play it. There is something magical about this tropical mixture, this exotic cocktail of music of the mist and of the heart. Strongly recommended.