By the end of World War I Heitor Villa-Lobos was 30 years old and had composed the symphonic poem Amazonas, the first of his breakthroughs in incorporating Brazilian material into a modern rather than Romantic-nationalistic idiom. A full turn in this direction was yet to come, however, and the two symphonies heard here are not characteristically Brazilian in style. They were part of a trilogy commissioned by the Brazilian government to celebrate end of World War I (in which Brazil fought on the Allies' side); the third work, the Symphony No. 5 ("Peace"), has apparently been lost. The two remaining works are sprawling programmatic pieces that gleefully overflow with ideas even if they could be called diffuse. The Symphony No. 3 finale quotes both "La Marseillaise" and the Brazilian national anthem, but not even the Symphony No. 4 ("Victory") has a militaristic mood. It is, if anything, subdued. The Symphony No. 3 ("War") ends almost in mid-battle and features a unique second movement depicting the uneasy circulation of rumors in a run-up to a war. The diversity of elements gives the music a collage-like feel, and the somewhat deliberate performances by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra under Isaac Karabtchevsky captures this quality nicely; you don't feel that Karabtchevsky is trying to force the music in directions it won't support. Thin sound is a disadvantage, but this release, part of a new series of Villa-Lobos' symphonies by these forces, is a worthy addition to the recorded literature for a composer whose legacy is still becoming clear.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Symphony No. 3 'War'|
|Symphony No. 4 'Victory'|