Heitor Villa-Lobos (1881-1959)

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Violin sonatas (Naxos)

Ten minutes of Villa-Lobos and you’re ready for carnival

Lebrecht's Album of the Week


Covid has narrowed our outlook so severely that we are hardly aware of the world abroad. Brazil has suffered 19 million cases with more than half a million deaths, isolating the country as never before among the community of nations. Villa-Lobos, its national composer, feted worldwide from the 1930s to the 1950s, has long since faded. His music always sounds fresh when I return to it after an absence, glistening with the swaying hips of a summer’s night on the Copacabana.

The three Villa-Lobos violin sonatas, styled for an international audience, are steamed with traces of Brahms, Debussy and Saint-Saens, but it never takes long before the rhythms are shaken up with a dash of swing and the tonality goes up-river into the heart of the rainforest. In a year when air travel is difficult or impossible, I can think of few other composers who transport you so ethereally into another time-zone and climate. Ten minutes of Villa-Lobos and you’re ready for carnival.

The music is not without faults. Villa-Lobos could not play the piano before he married and his keyboard writing can be less than fluent. The violin parts flow easily, with considerable demands on finger technique. The Italian Emmanuele Baldini, concertmaster of the Sao Paolo symphony orchestra, is equal to the challenge. The Brazilian pianist Paolo Rossi dresses up patches of thin score. Wake up and smell the coffee album. There’s an awful lot of music in Brazil.

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