Heitor Villa-Lobos was one of the 20th century's most prolific composers (along with others such as Darius Milhaud, Alan Hovhaness etc..) and as such wrote a lot of everything; happily his chamber music too is in abundance, and I prefer his chamber music most of all (including his under-appreciated set of 17 string quartets). This disc on Naxos with the ensemble Mobius is first-rate, and makes a nice introduction to Villa-lobos's chamber music for those unfamiliar with it-a lovely survey of his chamber music from 1917 (Song of the Black Swan) all the way up to 1957 (the Quintette Instrumental). I find these works all to be of great charm (I wish Mobius had included the "Sexteto Mistico" or "Sextuor Mystique" for Flute, Oboe, Alto Saxophone, Guitar, Celesta and Harp...perhaps my favorite Villa-Lobos chamber piece).
"The Jet Whistle" is cast for flute and cello and makes for a mellifluous and delightful entree. With its baroque-evoking patterns and with the flute pirouetting over the cello line, this is a life-enhancing, somewhat Ravelian piece. Indeed, the warm lyricism of the central movement is decidedly Francophile and the finale an exciting terpsichorean one, tinged with jazz. The "Quintette instrumental" for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Harp was one of his very last completed works; you’d never know. The harmonies are deft and once again the whiff of Paris is never far away. As a composition it’s full of generous ardor-nothing is solemn or unnecessarily reticent. There’s a Nocturne complete with birdcalls and a ruminative “Cello and the Nightingales” aura-the beautiful harp patterns presage the chiming of the clock. The finale even indulges some Middle Eastern moments-terrifically verdant and fulsome writing and nothing is overstated or unwelcome. Really gorgeous music.
The 1946 "Duo for Violin and Viola" is a work that has remained rather too well hidden. That’s a real shame, as it has plenty to offer the inquisitive player and listener-it would do excellently in a quartet evening for example where a little imaginative programming could yield great rewards. Counterpoint is the obvious feature but so too a real and yearning lyricism-reminiscent almost of Vaughan Williams in modal mood. The interweaving of lines is accomplished with the utmost skill and balance and this performance is thoroughly successful in exploring its lyric heartland.
The "Five Songs" are heard here in the arrangements by two members of Mobius, flautist Lorna McGhee and harpist Alison Nicholls. They range from melancholy to sultry to warm and lulling-and back to the delights of tristesse. Naturally they’re played by their arrangers with artful sensitivity. "Song of the Black Swan" is an early work and tenderly lyric, expertly crafted by a composer yet to pen such a long line of masterful opuses.
*For some reason I was having problems importing the disc as m4a (both lossless and aac), thus for now this post is mp3, Lame encoded @ 320. Sounds great though.