Friday, August 10, 2012

Jorge Amado's Centennial


Today, August 10, 2012, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado, who is best known for his 1966 novel Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands.

Just over 10 years ago a Villa-Lobos Conference was held in Paris.  One of the presentations was by my friend Lee Boyd:
Leah Arbelada Boyd - Truth & Justice for Dona Arminda, as well as for Dona Lucilia, and even Dona Lisa - "Leah Arbelada Boyd described the allegory on the life of Villa-Lobos which is embedded in Jorge Amado's Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, and discussed some of the circumstances surrounding it."
Coincidentally, Dona Arminda had her own Centennial earlier this year, just a few weeks ago, in fact. I wish Lee were still around to discuss this today.

The painting of Amado above is by Gilberto Gomes, from 1997, and is re-used here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license..

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Martyrdom of the Insects from Kazakhstan

Here's video from an important concert of Brazilian music from Astana, Kazakhstan. O Martírio dos Insetos, The Martyrdom of the Insects, is a work for violin & orchestra that's only been performed a very few times. The violinist is Askar Duisenbayev, and The State Chamber Orchestra "Academy of Soloists" is conducted by Daniel Bortholossi. Thanks to my friend Wellington Müller Bujokas for this!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rostropovich plays Villa-Lobos at Buckingham Palace

Mstislav Rostropovich and cellists from the London Philharmonic Orchestra play the first movement of Bachianas Brasileiras #1. This is from the Prom from the Palace concert held in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, hosted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Broadcast live on BBC Television, June 1st 2002.

Rostropovich recorded this movement with the Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kyrill Kondrashin, back in 1964.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Desert Island Discs

The BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs has been broadcast since 1942. The standard format of the show involves interesting people explaining their choice of 8 favourite gramophone records to take with them when they're marooned on a desert island.  The DID archive includes a big subset (1500) of the 2800 programmes available to download in MP3.

You can search the entire archive of castaways and their music choices on the DID website. It was great to see Villa-Lobos included in 22 programmes, chosen by such interesting castaways as Captain Jacques Cousteau, soprano Regina Resnik, and actors Richard Attenborough and Peter Ustinov. All of these chose Bachianas Brasileiras #5; it's not a surprise to see BB#5 chosen by 16 of these 22. Even guitarist Julian Bream chose BB#5, rather than one of the guitar works. Other interesting choices: James Mason picked guitar Prelude #3, while Goon Show writer Michael Bentine chose Uirapuru. Though less popular than other pieces - Elgar's Nimrod Variation was the choice of twice as many castaways, while Beethoven's 9the Symphony was the top pick - it's still a pretty impressive list.

The amazing presenters - only 4 in all those years! - often dig deep in their questions, and the musical choices say a lot about the guests.  Lately I've been listening to a DID MP3 - about 25 minutes - on each leg of my bicycle commute, and I've really been enlightened and entertained. Check it out!

Here is the evocative theme of the show "The Sleepy Lagoon", written by Eric Coates in 1930.

The Naxos Villa-Lobos Symphonies Series begins

Here's a CD I've been waiting for impatiently; it's the first in the new Naxos series of Villa-Lobos symphonies from OSESP, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Isaac Karabschevsky. It showed up first at MDT in the UK, with a release date of September 3rd, 2012.

The new disc includes one of the best symphonies, the 6th, which is subtitled "Montanhas do Brasil", or as presented here, "On the Outline of the Mountains of Brazil." The work, from 1944, has been recorded twice: by Carl St. Clair and the SWR Stuttgart Orchestra on cpo, and by Roberto Duarte and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra on Marco Polo. The 7th Symphony is from 1945, and has only been recorded once before, in the cpo complete symphonies set.

It seems like a good idea to present these two symphonies on the first disc in the series. In the mid 1940s Villa-Lobos was producing very accessible music; this was the period of the Bachianas Brasileiras. 1945 especially is an important year for the composer, who that year completed BB#9, the String Trio, the 1st Piano Concerto, the 9th String Quartet and the Fantasia for Cello & Orchestra. Perhaps the excitement of his first trip to America in January and February of 1945 got his creative juices flowing, or maybe he had a bunch of music ready to publish after a relatively quite time in Brazil during the war years.

It's become a bit of a cliché to say that the symphonies don't include the best orchestral music of Villa-Lobos. Clearly none of the symphonies can approach the level of Bachianas Brasileiras #1, #7 or #9; Choros #08 or #11; tone poems like Uirapuru or Erosao; or the concertos for guitar or cello. But the judgements in standard works by Appleby, Peppercorn & Tarasti were based on just a few recordings or live performances, and a sketchy availability of scores. Things changed when cpo finished recording the complete series of symphonies in 2000, and we're beginning to see a very few symphonies show up in performance around the world.

The current state of Villa-Lobos symphonies on CD is tilted pretty firmly towards Carl St. Clair & the SWR Stuttgart Orchestra on cpo:
  • Symphony 1: cpo only
  • Symphony 2: cpo, plus an obscure 1944 LP with the composer conducting the Werner Janssen Orchestra in Los Angeles
  • Symphony 3: cpo only
  • Symphony 4: cpo; a 1958 recording from France that's included in Villa-Lobos par lui-même; & a Dorian disc with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke
  • Symphony 5: score is lost
  • Symphony 6: cpo, and the Duarte recording on Marco Polo mentioned above
  • Symphony 7: cpo only
  • Symphony 8: cpo only
  • Symphony 9: cpo only
  • Symphony 10: cpo; Symphony Orchestra of Tenerife, with Victor Pablo Perez on Harmonia Mundi; Gisele Ben-Dor conducting the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra on Koch
  • Symphony 11: cpo only
  • Symphony 12: cpo only
There's not a single Brazilian orchestra included in the list above. Previous OSESP recordings on BIS (the Bachianas Brasilieras with Roberto Minczuk and the Choros with John Neschling) are to my mind the best, and in a very competitive field.  So I feel there's a good chance that when the dust has cleared (in another 6 or 7 years when the new Naxos series is complete) we'll be in a position to judge whether the symphonies might be more successful and more important than the current conventional wisdom holds. I'm hoping that Karabschevsky & Naxos can complete the rehabilitation of the symphonies begun by Carl St. Clair & cpo.