Villa-Lobos: Symphonies 3 & 4 (War And Victory) (Isaac Karabtchevsky, Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.573151)
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Symphonies n°3 "War" et n°4 "Victory" / São Paulo Symphony Orchestra - Isaac Karabtchevsky, direction
'A simply outstanding recording of two magnificent and scandalously neglected music...the music is important , and the performances are superb, as is the recording quality. A truly significant issue.' --Musical Opinion, November/December 2013
'Isaac Karabtchevsky and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra clearly relish every note of this music and these discs are landmarks in the recorded history of Brazil s best-known composer.' --International Record Review, June 2013
Top Customer Reviews
These early "war" symphonies owe much to Debussy's modal harmonies without ever sounding like Debussy. Both symphonies have some of the feel of the russian nationalists: the colour of Rimsky Korsakov and the modal harmonies of Mussorgsky. the Scherzo of the third even has a hint of Vaughan Williams about it.
The overt passion and colour here is at odds with the muted European responses to World War I; think also of Nielsen's great Fifth, for example or Vaughan Williams' Pastoral. Few would paint their colours so plainly to the mast as Villa Lobos does - he's cheering on France all the way! The French anthem is repeated several times across both symphonies. This is war drama played out from a safe distance: not particularly subtle or profound but fine music all the same; wonderfully orchestrated, structurally sound, harmonically and thematically memorable.
Even so these quite broad readings provide some genuinely moving passages with the slow lament in the Third Symphony particularly impressive. The opening two movements don't descend to melodrama either with the war references not swamping the musical argument. The finale, admittedly, does throw in the kitchen sink, but then, according to the movement subtitles this is where the battle begins.Read more ›
At this price, I recommend the disc without hesitation.
These symphonies were composed early in VL's career (both in 1919): the sleeve notes suggest that he was still finding his feet - true inasmuch as a composer develops a mature style over a period of time rather than has it at the outset. Even so, they are full of the trademarks of the mature composer, polyrhythm, dense polyphony, performance difficulties and his way with moments of evocative calm . With his later symphonies he concerned himself more with form more than sound effects but here is his through-composed Braziliana with echoes of distant forests, sometimes not so distant, alongside (brief) quotes from the French and Brazilian national anthems in Symphony 3.
Though I wouldn't describe them as the best introduction to Villa-Lobos, they are easy going, No.3 easier than No.4 (which is comparatively shorter). The opening movement of No.3 seeming almost pastoral. The slow movement is delicate, hardly war-like but the other movements are pretty energetic. No.4 seems to ramble somewhat particularly in the first movement. It's in this work that he makes full use of the huge orchestra he demands. It is nonetheless perfectly listenable and worth a couple of auditions to acclimatise. The recording manages to balance the many lines of the texture credibly well. It must be an absolute headache for the engineers.
The only other recordings with which I'm familiar are the St. Clair. Of the No.4, Villa-Lobos himself conducted a performance that I'm told is fairly clumsy, and Diaz with the Simon Bolivar which I have yet to hear.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The Naxos Symphonies series with Karabtchevsky conducting OSESP is winning me over to this music even more than the complete CPO series from Stuttgart under Carl St. Clair from a decade ago. This is sophisticated symphonic music, written perhaps under the influence of Russian composers such as Borodin, Rimsky Korsakov and especially Tchaikovsky. Villa-Lobos knew this music inside out from his days as an orchestral musician - he played the cello with the symphony and in the opera pit.
In the end Villa's Symphonies don't measure up to the nine written by the Swede Kurt Atterberg, who was born in the same year as Villa-Lobos. But it's quite interesting to compare Atterberg's 3rd, 4th and 5th Symphonies with Villa's 3rd and 4th. All were written during and just after the First World War, and though I can't imagine either knew the music of the other, there are similar themes and sometimes a common sound-world. It makes the disappearance of Villa's 5th Symphony even more vexing.
When Villa-Lobos himself conducted and recorded his orchestral music with the French National Radio Orchestra in Paris in the 1950s, he chose the 4th Symphony to go with the complete Bachianas Brasileiras and a selection from the Choros series. But he never sold that piece to the orchestra or the phonographic audience, or if he did you can't tell from the thin sound. Karabtchevsky and his Brazililan orchestra sell both of these symphonies, and I look forward to listening to them again. And I definitely look forward to the release of future discs in this series.
Completed in 1919, these symphonies play against expectations. First, the works have very little of the folk elements Villa-Lobos scores are known for. Second, although commemorating victory, the symphonies avoid bombastic and heroic gestures. And the results are two compelling and attractive works that deserve a wide audience.
Symphony No. 3 "War" has some bugle calls and an excerpt from La Marseillaise. The latter references the French battlefields where Brazilian troop fought and died. But beyond these elements there's nothing overly militaristic about the work. Instead, Villa-Lobos has written a very somber and understated symphony that captures the mood of a nation that discovered there's nothing glorious about war in the trenches. The programmatic names of the four movements frame the story the music effectively conveys; Life and Labour, Intrigues and Rumors, Suffering, and The Battle.
Symphony No. 4 "Victory" is a big, expansive work that isn't as dark as the third symphony. But this isn't a celebration as much as a reflection on the cost of victory. Villa-Lobos uses the resources of his enlarged orchestra effectively, creating broad thematic gestures that slowly unfold. Symphony No. 4 is more elegiac than triumphant.
The Sao Palo Symphony Orchestra is well-recorded, and under Isaac Karabtchevsky's direction delivers sympathetic and committed performances. I look forward to the next installment of this cycle.
There's just tons of 'ear candy' in these two symphonies without also sounding gimmicky in any way. Villa-Lobos was an outstanding orchestrator, and rarely ever gets mentioned as being so. Until now, I've pretty much known just his set of Bachianas Brasileiras; the orchestral Choros, and a few of his better known concertos. The symphonies appear to be a whole different 'bag', and certainly deserve to be more deeply explored. For ANY fans of modern orchestral music, I would strongly urge you to check out these two symphonies - particularly when the performances and sound quality are as excellent as they are on this particular disc. The playing of the Sao Paulo Symphony is both muscular and refined. In my opinion, this orchestra is as good as most any in North America or Europe.
In a blind, 'drop-the-needle' test, no way would I have guessed this recording to be a Naxos, as the sound quality is absolutely of 'audiophile' quality. Highest possible recommendation.
When this music was written Villa Lobos's style was not yet fully formed. His monumental series of Bachianas Brasileiras, which skillfully combine classical forms with the blazing colors and insistent rhythms of Brazilian folk music, were still 11 years in the future. Here, in addition to barely digested chunks of Debussy, there are also echoes of Stravinsky, Beethoven, Verdi, and Schubert. The writing is often nervous and episodic, with chattering woodwinds and brazen outbursts from the brass. Fortunately there's plenty of local color provided by the flute, a variety of exotic percussion instruments, and the xylophone.
The composer's melodic gift is unmistakable, but like many young composers he bombards us with so many ideas and fragments that it's impossible to keep them all straight--especially given that there's so little repetition or development. The writing is freely rhapsodic, more symphonic poem than symphony. Despite that, the music holds together quite well and effectively conveys the conflicting moods and emotions of War and Victory.
Both works are in four movements and employ some elements of traditional symphonic form. Thus the Third Symphony's second movement, a conspiratorial scherzo (subtitled "Intrigues and Rumors"), is followed by a funereal slow movement ("Suffering"). The latter is the emotional core of the work: aching, deeply sorrowful music. It is nearly as long as the other three movements combined. The finale is a graphic and often harrowing depiction of battle, though the constant bombardment by the bass drum soon becomes tiresome. Symphony 4 is the most remarkable of the pair. There is little, if any triumph in this Victory symphony, except perhaps in the final few seconds. Instead we are confronted with many conflicting emotions from relief to anxiety and fear to hope for a more peaceful future. This victory did not come easily, and the cost was horrifically high.
The Sao Paulo Symphony's playing is utterly fearless, and the brass deserve special recognition. Isaac Karabtchevsky is for the most part an effective leader, though he could bring more excitement to the battle scene and more passion to the slow music. The sound is muffled and distant, as if the microphones were covered in gauze. An old RCA Victrola LP that I pulled off the shelf at random sounded vastly more open and transparent. I'm not a mindless devotee of vinyl, but those old recording engineers (particularly RCA's Jack Pfeiffer) could teach today's producers a thing or two. Fabio Zanon's booklet essay is exemplary.