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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Heitor Villa-Lobos, Symphony No. 3 "War," Symphony No. 4 "Victory"

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was off to a very promising start when at age 22 the Government of Brazil commissioned him to write two symphonies commemorating the country's involvement in WWI. What they got can be heard to full advantage on the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra recording, conducted by Isaac Karabtchevsky, of Symphony No. 3 "War" and Symphony No. 4 "Victory" (Naxos 8.573151).

These are two very original, mature works that avoid the glib "hurrahs" and "attaboys" that a lesser composer might have been tempted to include. Instead we get complex orchestral tapestries of mystery and elegaic respect.

Villa-Lobos had already developed the soaringly rhapsodic aspect of his symphonic style, somehow more Brazilian than romantic. You can hear it throughout both works. And there are also sound color, orchestrational touches that with the large orchestral forces at his disposal, combine with the melodic sweep to make the two symphonies stand out as singular.

The performances are strong, the recording sounds quite good; we are given spirited readings of two scores that deserved to be heard more widely. Villa-Lobos is such an important part of the 20th century melange of innovators and here we have two excellent early reasons why that is so.

Highly recommended, especially at the Naxos price!

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