The young Polish musician Krzysztof Meisinger (b. 1984) is one of the most fascinating and charismatic guitarists of his generation. With the legendary Academy of St Martin in the Fields under the direction of the Brazilian conductor José Maria Florêncio, he has recorded the famous Guitar Concerto of Heitor Villa-Lobos. In this work of 1951, Villa-Lobos paid eloquent homage to the guitar’s qualities as a concert instrument. The recording also includes the Five Preludes for solo guitar, and an arrangement of Melodia Sentimental for guitar, violin, and string orchestra. This programme – recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London! – ideally displays the flexibility of a young soloist ready to conquer the world with his bewitching playing.
These fine performances constitute the only complete cycle currently available of the 17 string quartets that pepper Villa-Lobos' entire career. The suite-like, five-movement No. 1, with its adorable "like a jumping bean" finale, is deceptive. Most of these are resoundingly neo-classical works full of acerbic harmonies and typically busy counterpoint, with few overtly nationalistic elements. Of course they sound just like Villa-Lobos, who was himself something of a "nationalistic element" when you come right down to it. The series reaches its culmination in the large works composed around the time of the Second World War, Nos. 7-11, which really do constitute landmark 20th century contributions to the form on a par with those of Shostakovich and Bartók.
This 6-CD set of "Villa-Lobos par lui-même" ("Villa Lobos performed by himself") presents the complete recordings made for Pathé between 1954 and 1958 and conducted by, or (in the case of the occasional Bachianas Brasileiras or Chôros scored for piano or duet) made under the supervision of the composer. As many of his contemporaries who made Paris their second home (Enescu comes to mind), Villa-Lobos shared his life between his native Brazil and Paris. Thus it has an important historical value.
Here's an easy call: these are the finest recordings of these works currently available. In reviewing the individual releases, I had perhaps one small reservation concerning the disc containing Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, but this evaporates in the face of the achievement as a whole. Both cycles, the Bachianas Brasileiras and the Choros, constitute two of the most original, colorful, and enjoyable collections of works by any 20th-century composer. They belong in every serious record collection, and they have never been so consistently well performed and recorded. At last, Villa-Lobos' compatriots have managed to do his quirky genius full justice. The excellent disc of solo guitar music makes a fine and thoughtful bonus, and at seven discs for the price of three, you'd have to be insane not to grab this set immediately.
These three magnificent works belong in the repertoire of cellists everywhere. They are full of Villa-Lobos’ signature exotic instrumental textures, folk-like melodies, and abundant invention. They are also harder than hell to play, and difficult to balance. Villa-Lobos was a cellist himself, and loved the instrument’s low, dark register. Penetrating his dense orchestration without making the instrument sound like a dying cow is just one of the many challenges facing cellists attempting to come to grips with this marvelously expressive music, though recordings can solve this problem with sensitive microphone placement. Antonio Meneses understands both the music and its performance problems, and his lower register manages to sound gruff without undue signs of bovine distress. He’s helped by some very sensitive accompaniments; Pérez projects the music’s lush timbres without laying it on too thick.
Heitor Villa-Lobos is without a doubt Brazil's most famous composer and one of the great creative personalities of the twentieth century. His oeuvre is gigantic in its dimensions and perhaps can be compared only to that of Darius Milhaud, who, by the way, was a close friend of his. In any case, Villa-Lobos was the first to introduce the music of Latin America to the world's concert halls, and influences from this music do indeed abound in his oeuvre. cpo is now presenting the first complete recording of his colossal symphonic work complex in a boxed set of seven CDs at a special low price! The SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra under the American star conductor Carl St. Clair has taken on this enormous task, and the result can only be described as a bravura achievement. You can look forward to an orchestral tour de force operating on the highest level!
A lot has been said about Anna Moffo's early vocal decline and mismanaged carreer but let's not forget what a lovely singer she was in her prime. This recital from the early 1970's let us hear "late Moffo" though she was not yet 40. There is a slight hoarseness and unsteadiness in the voice that was not present in earlier recordings but it is still by any means a beautiful instrument used with skill. This recital also reminds us what a verstatile artist she was - she sings arias from the italian bel canto and verismo repertoire, french lyric and also german operettas and she passes from one to the other with considerable naturalness, ease and charm..
Heitor Villa-Lobos' two numbered cello concerti come from the opposite ends of his output; the first Grande Concerto dates from 1915 and the second from 1953. In between there is another concertante work, the Fantasia for cello and orchestra, which is contemporaneous with the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 for soprano and eight cellos that remains Villa-Lobos' most popular work. In this MD&G issue, Heitor Villa-Lobos: Concertos for Violoncello and Orchestra, cellist Ulrich Schmid is heard with the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie under conductor Dominique Roggen in the numbered concertos only, although there easily would have been enough room on the 42-minute-long disc to accommodate the Fantasia as well.