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.
This collection of short choral pieces by Johannes Brahms is an unusual one in present times, partly because many of the choral parts are quite demanding. For a choral club in the 19th century, however, it wouldn't have been so novel, and there are great beauties on offer here. After the fetching Ave Maria, Op. 12, the rest of the program is dense, metaphysical, and, with the partial exception of the Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53, concerned with death. There are two funeral songs, and two more about fate, and this is not the warm, humanistic Brahms of the German Requiem, Op. 45. The performances are profound and dignified, and the overall effect uncanny. The Warsaw Philharmonic Choir under choirmaster Henryk Wojnarowski has a gorgeous rich tone that is undiminished by the long lines of the music, and the Alto Rhapsody achieves real grandeur in the hands of contralto Ewa Wolak. But the real credit goes to the Warsaw Philharmonic and conductor Antoni Wit, who keep a consistent level of tension and momentum in difficult, dark material like the somber Nänie, Op. 82 (Funeral Song), a rarely performed late Brahms masterwork.
Stephen Layton and Polyphony have a long and fruitful relationship with the music of Arvo Pärt. Their recording of Triodion and other choral works (CDA67375) won a Gramophone Award and became a cult classic. The extraordinary purity of Polyphony’s singing is the perfect vehicle for music of such clean, elemental simplicity, such cathartic calm. This third Pärt album from Stephen Layton and Polyphony reaches right back, intriguingly, to the composer’s youthful modernist phase and spans nearly five decades—from 1963 to 2012—in the process. As with the album Triodion, it reflects an increasingly broad spread of languages and sources in Pärt’s chosen texts. Latin, German and English are joined here by Church Slavonic and Spanish. A range of biblical texts are set alongside ancient prayers.
This generously programmed disc provides excellent value and outstanding performances of both major and lesser-known masterpieces of French choral music. The Fauré Requiem has been recorded many times, and several excellent versions of the original orchestration are available on disc. This one is among them, owing to John Eliot Gardiner's experience and perfectionist mastery of details overlooked by less-successful choral conductors. The real bonus here is the inclusion of the popular but very difficult Debussy and Ravel chansons, and the rarely heard but eminently worthy little part songs by Saint-Saëns. These pieces are a lesson in how to achieve maximum effect with the simplest materials.
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.
The intensely practical choral music of the young Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds is steadily gaining appreciation across the world. The works on this new album owe their genesis to commissions from the United States, England and northern Europe and encompass ethereal expressions of uniquely arctic phenomena (listen for wine glasses turned—and tuned—to wondrously simple but devastating effect within the choral texture), American ballads and several works in the ‘Anglican tradition’, the fruits of the composer’s recent residency at Trinity College Cambridge. Trinity College Choir Cambridge here returns the compliment, as it were, with superlative performances of these varied and engaging works, all recorded under the watchful eye of the composer and conductor Stephen Layton.
The finest recordings of these works available! The Brazilian composer (we needn't remind his most ardent supporters that he's the most significant Latin American composer of all time) behind numerous orchestral, chamber, instrumental and vocal works lets his creative genius show on Choros (from the Portuguese verb chorar , "to weep") Nos. 1-12 and Bachianas Brasileiras ("Brazilian Bach-pieces") Nos. 1-9. Also includes a bonus disc of solo guitar music played by the distinguished Anders Miolin. Great notes in the booklet, too…highly recommended! - Gramophone Magazine
Villa-Lobos’ War and Victory Symphonies were commissioned by the Brazilian government following the end of the country’s involvement in World War I. Using very large orchestral forces, and conveying the composer’s feelings about the conflict with no sense of triumphalism, the two Symphonies display a confident use of unusual and evocative effects, such as the collage of fragments of the Brazilian national anthem and La Marseillaise in the ‘Battle’ movement of the Third Symphony. Villa-Lobos’s Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 can be found on Naxos 8573043 in “superb… full-blooded” performances.