August 2008

Villa-Lobos - Chros, Vol. 1 (Nos. 5, 7 & 11)
Cristina Ortiz, piano; So Paulo Symphony Orchestra, John Neschling cond.
BIS CD-1440
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

The cycle of 14 Chros Villa-Lobos composed in the 1920s has never become as well known as the somewhat later series of nine Bachianas brasileiras. Both cycles comprise works for a broad range of performing forces and are based on forms of Brazilian popular music. While at least some of the Bachianas have become quite well known, and the entire set has been recorded several times, the still more varied Chros have been represented far less fully, most often by the brief No.1 for guitar solo or No.5 (Alma brasileira -- "Brazilian Soul") for piano.

BIS now is giving this fascinating cycle what appears to be its first integral recording. Volume 1 starts off with No. 11, essentially a three-movement piano concerto (dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein, who "discovered" Villa-Lobos and had a big part in getting his music known), more than an hour long, that amounts to a sound image of Brazil, in the rhythms and colors of its people and its terrain. Cristina Ortiz is thoroughly persuasive in the solo part, as she is in her remake of the concise, more inward Alma brasileira, effectively placed here as a sort of interlude between the mammoth No. 11 and the free-wheeling No. 7, a colorful single movement for flute, oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone, bassoon, violin, cello and offstage tam-tam.

As in BIS’s recent Bachianas (also from So Paulo, but with Roberto Minczuk conducting), the performances and sound quality here suit this music down to the ground -- and Vol. 2, with the marvelous No. 6 for orchestra as its centerpiece, is already on the way [BIS 1450].