Heitor Villa-Lobos

Villa-Lobos plays Villa-Lobos

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Sanctus' Villa-Lobos plays Villa-Lobos focuses not on recordings composer Heitor Villa-Lobos made late in life already collected in the EMI box set Villa-Lobos par lui même, but on items belonging to the Villa-Lobos museum in Rio de Janiero. Recorded "between the mid-1920s to the early 1940s" although "no recording dates or venues could be found," it appears the bulk of the collection was recorded by the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft while Villa-Lobos was visiting Berlin in 1936. German soprano Beate Rosenkreutzer sings a selection of Villa-Lobos' songs with the composer at the piano, he plays some piano solos that demonstrate his amazing, self-taught ability and, most importantly, plays a couple of guitar solos, an instrument on which Villa-Lobos considered himself skilled; this proves he certainly was so. The disc is filled out with a nearly 20-minute-long lecture in Portuguese that sounds like it is taken from the radio; as no transcription of the talk is provided, if you cannot speak Portuguese this will not be useful to you, although it can be interesting to hear Villa-Lobos' slow speech cadences. Rosenkreutzer delivers an amazingly idiomatic performance of Villa-Lobos' Portuguese songs, and it appears that these are the only recordings made of this mega-obscure singer.

There is a BIG disadvantage to this disc, and that is through the heavy-handed and amateurish use of noise reduction software in the restoration. These recordings -- save the lecture -- are in poor condition, and if they indeed originate from Villa-Lobos' private collection, apparently he -- like George Gershwin -- enjoyed listening to his own recordings over and over, gradually wearing them out. As in the case of Gershwin, the recreation of the composer has led to a sad sonic situation for posterity, and Sanctus processes these artifacts so heavily that irremovable pops and digs in the surfaces of these archival discs sound as though amplified 20 times and played back through the Palace of Versailles; it is a completely substandard and irresponsible transfer. Moreover, by virtue of a little exchange of data with others in the field of 78-era scholarship, Sanctus probably could have isolated even some general information that would have nailed down the approximate dates and likely provenance of these recordings, but they choose not to. The EMI set primarily emphasizes the aging Villa-Lobos as a haphazard conductor of his own massive orchestral works, which does little to dispel the view of him as an eccentric autodidact, often cultivated by those on the receiving end of Villa-Lobos' scores. The material here establishes Heitor Villa-Lobos as a highly skilled instrumentalis; however, such facility was gained, and the inept handling of the digital transfers, rather than sealing the deal, more or less completely blows it.

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