Villa-Lobos: The Guitar Manuscripts, Volume 1 (CD review)

Andrea Bissoli, guitar; Lia Serafini, soprano; Federica Artuso, guitar; Stefano Brait, flute; Francesco Erle, Schola San Rocco Chorus; Fabio Mechetti, Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos 8.573115.

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was probably the most important and influential Brazilian composer of the twentieth century. Accordingly, over the years musicians have recorded most, if not all, of his published material. Nevertheless, this first of three volumes brings together not only some of his more-familiar pieces but thanks to the research of Italian guitarist Andrea Bissoli includes several of the composer's rare and newly discovered works. The album is mostly a treat.

Taking no chances, Bissoli begins the program with a fairly well-known piece, Villa-Lobos's Guitar Concerto, which the composer wrote for guitar great Andres Segovia in 1951. Just don't expect it to sound too much like JoaquĆ­n Rodrigo's concerto for guitar, the Concierto de Aranjuez, written more than a decade earlier. Villa-Lobos's composition is a touch edgier, more angular, more modern than Rodrigo's more melodic, more Romantic work. Still, Villa-Lobos's music is easy on the ear, and Bissoli handles it with care. His guitar craftsmanship is sweet and flowing, yet virtuosic when necessary. Several passages are quite lovely, especially toward the end of the first movement, and Bissoli seems to cherish them. The final movement, marked Allegro non troppo - Viva, has a nicely paced rhythm to it, finishing up in lively style without sounding rushed or frenzied, just as the tempo marking indicates. It's a good way, as I said, to start the album.

After that we find a whole series of short pieces, some of them with vocal accompaniment, some of them transcriptions of piano music for guitar, and yet others more recently unearthed in world-premiere recordings. One of the more interesting items to me was Valse-Choro, a gentle waltz that lay undiscovered for eighty years. It contains some wonderfully imaginative sections for the guitar, which Bissoli handles with much charm. Then there are the Cirandas Nos. 1 and 14, arrangements of piano pieces for two guitars. Here, guitarist Federica Artuso joins Bissoli for a pair of French folk-inspired tunes of creative verve.

Andrea Bissoli
The few selections I didn't care as much for were those with soprano Lia Serafini. Whether by chance or design, the vocals sounded rather too forward for my taste. I'm not sure if it was entirely a matter of the venue, the singer's voice not complementing the music, or the engineer's miking of the voice; but the singing appeared a bit too bright and edgy to me in the highest, loudest passages. Be that as it may, Ms. Serafini's voice is otherwise expressive and beauteous, negotiating Villa-Lobos's music with an affectionate tone in five voice-and-piano works transcribed for voice and guitar.

Producer Alessandro Panetto and engineers Uli Schneider, Federico Pelle, Andrea Dandolo, and Matteo Costa recorded the music at Teatro do Centro Educacional, Ibirite, Minas Gerais, Brazil, and Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Carmini, Vicenza, Italy, between 2009 and 2012. The sound of the guitar and orchestra is quite good, if a tad close. It's very clean, very clear, dynamic, and open. There's a wide stereo spread involved, quick transient response with the guitar, little or no bass overhang, and a pleasantly mild hall bloom enhancing the sound. On the vocals, however, the room resonance (or the miking) seems to work against the high notes, making them appear slightly too aggressive.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa