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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 September 2009
... is evidently Portuguese for 'the real deal' according to some Google translation site. A couple of months back I was pleased to see that Naxos had released a new recording of the complete Bachianas Brasilieras, by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra under Kenneth Schermerhorn, Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras (Complete). At last I would be able to make full acquaintance with these works that I had only hitherto known through beguiling fragments. I purchased the set forthwith, and sure enough experienced the full glory of these wondrous works but, as I state in my review for that set, I did have the suspicion that better performances might be possible. Upon posting that review I did some checking and found that indeed, there was an alternative version, this one, and at an impossibly generous price, and including some very tempting extras. And I was right. This is the real deal, and the version to go for, being far more nuanced and layered than the Naxos set, which now sounds, for the most part, rather sadly ponderous and clumsy in comparison. This set does justice to the great wealth of detail that the Nashvilles just buried with over-enthusiasm and, most of all, it actually sounds unmistakably Brazilian, perhaps something to do with the fact that it's a Brazilian at the helm of the London Phil. I'm now going to have to amend my review for the Naxos set and downgrade it from the five stars that I first gave it, simply for making these treasures available.

How to describe Villa Lobos for those unfamiliar with him? Brazil's greatest composer, who worked between the 20's and the 50's. His musical legacy carries on to this day, his idiom having been absorbed into innumerable threads of popular music that just cannot seem to escape his omnipresent influence. He had a penchant for heartbreakingly romantic themes, but also the academic discipline to place them within settings of the most impeccable European propriety. One hears an obvious Iberian influence, but it is threaded through with something darker, more exotic, which has resonances of the jungle and the polyglot waves of all the races washed up upon those shores. But the whole is underpinned with a deep connection to the European motherlands, whose cultural values those first settlers and missionaries clung to while establishing their footholds in that strange new world. For Villa Lobos, that connection is personified above all by Bach and his music, and no matter how exotic his music becomes the voice of Bach, and his so simple yet so compelling mathematical patterns are always to be heard somewhere in his textures. It is easy to classify Villa Lobos' work as a thread of modernism. After all, there are rich, strange harmonies, chords with no name in music theory, haunting dissonances. But this is really exoticism rather than modernism. And an authentic exoticism, not that of a traditionalist importing influences from abroad, but rather that of the émigré trying to retain a connection with his roots, but at the same time attempting to render the strange and new into the corpus of the familiar.

So, the Bachianas Brasilieras; Nine works of various shapes and sizes, and for various combinations of instruments. Mostly massed orchestral works, occasionally with accompaniment - No.3 is a piano fantasia, No.5 as a haunting two movement work for soprano. Some are less orthodox - No.1 is for eight or more cellos, No.6 is a charming duet for the surprising combination of flute and bassoon. All are united in their homage to Bach. The themes are often of folk origin, of which it would seem Brazil has an infinite repertoire, and despite occasional layers of exotic percussion, the prelude and fugue relationship typical of Bach are played out again and again. But the real thing about these works, the real U.S.P. if you will, is that they each contain at least one theme, sometimes more, that will melt any heart through the soles of its owner's boots. Anyone who can be moved to tears by orchestral music will be made to blub by these beautiful works. A full gamut of moods is represented in them but it is the romantic pathos, that comes around again and again, that one is really waiting for.

The other superb bonus that comes with this set, as well as the Piano Fantasia, Monoprecoce, with Ashkenazy on keys, is the brief but supremely haunting Guitar Concerto. It is ironic that outside Brazil it is for his guitar music that Villa Lobos is primarily known. His preludes and etudes are core repertoire for any serious classical guitarist. And yet for a man who was as prolific as the best of them, and who lived to a decent old age, he actually wrote little guitar music. Too little many would say, and only one very brief but entirely definitive guitar concerto. It has been a great pleasure to renew acquaintance with this lovely work since I let go of my vinyl version some twenty years back. The performance by Angel Romero is full of excitement, and yes, you guessed it, romantic pathos, and is as good as I might have hoped for.

At this price this set is an absolute no-brainer for anyone seeking a comprehensive overview of the key works of 20th Century music. Though Villa Lobos remains a specialist interest in Europe, that interest shows no signs of diminishing, 50 years after his death. It has become clear that his unique voice is not one that is going to go away.
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on 23 September 2010
Although internationally famous during his lifetime, Villa-Lobos had been put aside for many years, i.e., had been almost excluded of the musical canon until the recent sudden emergence of Dudamel reintroduced his work in the concert halls. This cycle of the Bachianas Brasileiras is a fortunate exception as it was enregistered in the Seventies.

It would be unjust to choose some pieces as the the most accurate or well played. Enrique Bátiz proved himself a resorceful conductor of Villa-Lobos and Barbara Hendricks did her best to achieve the natural music of the Portuguese language in her singing of the Bachianas 4 and 5.

The quality which renders these performances outstanding, in my opinion, is that they succeded in finding the correct balance between the regional and the universal elements in Villa-Lobos. For Villa-Lobos' creative activity was, first of all, a lifelong search for the authentic musical soul of Brazil, which is much more than most people, including the Brazilians themselves, will ever be presented with. But at the same time Villa-Lobos suffered from that "anxiety of influence" as he could not but participate in the western musical canon.

In a period of the history of the classical music characterized by discovery and innovation, Villa-Lobos found his way not by refusing (or pretending to refuse) the tradition, but by working out an original musical idea, which could reflect his temperament, his passion, the musical character of his country (as he saw it) and of his epoch, and the sense of transcendence which is the "conditio sine qua non" of the classical music, its "raison d'être".
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 March 2011
John Ferngrove's excellent review tells you nearly all of what you need to know about this set. The most important thing to note is that it offers incredible value for money that beats all competition. The sound engineering is excellent and many of the performances are first rate.

If you want the full set of Bachianas then this is the obvious choice though the BIS recordings coupled with the remarkable Choros is probably the best if you want both sets: that's worth having for the Choros alone and you get the guitar preludes too. I share John Ferngrove's enthusiasm for Villa-Lobos's music and for those only familiar with the Bachianas I can heartily recommend the Choros series as well as his highly underrated string quartets and symphonies - an embarrassment of riches!

As for this set, the bonuses are great too - both Momoprocece and the Guitar Concerto receive excellent performances and are substantial works.

Fine as the performances of the Bachianas are overall, I would say that I don't think these are quite the definitive performances. I do find that Enrique Batiz does rush some of the pieces and the some of the subtleties of the bluesy second are missed. Basically, it lacks atmosphere at times with the richer and sometimes melancholic elements being passed over a little too quickly. Even so, for the full set it is excellent overall and a steal at this price. Highly recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 August 2010
I agree with pretty well all that John Ferngrove says in his well-informed review. I have heard some of the Naxos set, and it's good, but this does have a tang of authenticity that it sometimes lacks. I didn't know Bachianas Brazileiras until a friend introduced me to them (via the Naxos set). They are remarkably varied and interesting, and it's clear that a really original musical mind is at work here. I find some of the scoring a bit heavy, though equally there are deft and surprising movements and passages, and I do think that musically they are uneven, but very well worth getting to know nonetheless. No. 7, for example, is a very considerable piece indeed, and in its grand, organ-like sonorities Villa-Lobos's love for Bach is more than evident. That piece alone is worth much more than the very, very modest price of this set. The recording and performances are excellent.
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on 27 January 2012
I had not known any Villa-Lobos until I heard BB number 5 at the King's Place. Needless to say, I bought these recordings the following day. I very recommend them.
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on 24 February 2013
I bought this for my friend for her birthday as she loves Villa Lobos. I haven't heard it myself, but she said it's one of the best of this kind of music. This CD was very good value for money.
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on 30 October 2015
The prolific Brazilian brings a smile to your face, can set your toes tapping and bathe you in the sunshine of Brazil. This is a bargain package I snapped up then lapped up.
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on 4 March 2014
Although Villa-Lobos is mainly known for his Bachianas Brasillieras Number 5, his others should receive more attention than they usually receive. This is a fine recording.
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on 13 January 2015
An interesting set of works from a lesser known composer - nicely recorded and a joy to relax to.
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on 5 January 2015
Altogether an enjoyable CD.
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