Compact Discoveries
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2002 by Fred Flaxman


Program 21
"Upstairs, Downstairs, Villa-Lobos"

MUSIC: Villa-Lobos: Chôros No. 1 [Newport Classic NPD 85518, track 2] [Down and under...]

FLAXMAN: Hi, I'm Fred Flaxman, your guide to Compact Discoveries. I call this program "Upstairs, Downstairs, Villa-Lobos [VEEla-LOH-bohsh]."

MUSIC: [fades out]

FLAXMAN:
When my wife and I lived in southern Oregon, our house had two stories. We didn't have enough space in our living room for all of our compact discs, so some were relegated to the recreation room in our walk-out basement.

The result was like the old British TV series, "Upstairs, Downstairs." We had two classes of CDs living in our house. "Upstairs" composers included most of Brahms, Beethoven, Dvorak, Gershwin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Rachmaninov, Schubert, Verdi, Wagner, and many, many others. Downstairs were most of Gorecki [Goo-reht-skee], Penderecki [Pen-deh-reht-skee], Berg ["Bare"g], Schoenberg [Shön-"bare"g], Sessions, Varese and Honegger [Oh-neh-gehr], along with some Haydn and Handel. Stamitz [Shtah-mits], incidentally, would have been down there, too, if I had allowed him in the house at all. He still wins hands down as my least favorite pre-modern composer.

The prolific Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos [HAY-tor VEE-la-LOH-bohsh], who lived from 1887 to 1959, was split between the two floors. During the next hour I'm going to play for you compositions and excerpts from compositions which were definitely "upstairs" works, starting with his Bachianas Brasileiras [Bahk-YAH-nahsh Brah-zeel-AIR-ish] No. 5 for soprano and cellos. This piece, in fact, makes my imaginary list of my 100 all-time favorite compositions - which must have at least 200 pieces on it by now.

The Bachianas Brasileiras [Bahk-YAH-nahsh Brah-zeel-AIR-ish] No. 5 contains, in my view, one of the most romantically beautiful melodies ever written. Yet, like everything I have ever heard by this composer, it sounds distinctly like his music, and couldn't be mistaken for anyone else's. There are the Brazilian rhythms, and the judicious use of dissonance - just enough to sound contemporary, not so much as to interfere with the listener's pleasure.

Renée Fleming is the soprano in this RCA Victor BMG compact disc. The New World Symphony is conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

MUSIC: Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 [RCA Victor 09026-68538-2, tracks 5 and 6]

FLAXMAN: The Bachianas Brasileiras [Bahk-YAH-nahsh Brah-zeel-AIR-ish] No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos [HAY-tor VEEla-LOH-bohsh]. Renée Fleming was the soprano. The New World Symphony was conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

The Chôros [Shoh-roosh] No. 1 for guitar is, from beginning to end, one of Villa-Lobos' best melodies - lyrical, rhythmic, catchy, unforgettable, Brazilian to the core. The recording I have is by Michael Cedric Smith, whose credit is unjustly buried in the program notes on the Newport Classic compact disc. The CD also includes several other chôros from a set of 14 for different instruments and ensembles which Villa-Lobos composed between 1920 and 1929. The chôros [Shoh-roosh] were originally popular pieces played by street musicians in Brazil's large cities.

MUSIC: Villa-Lobos: Chôros No. 1 [Newport Classic 85518, track 2]

FLAXMAN: The Chôros [Shoh-roosh] No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos as performed by guitarist Michael Cedric Smith.

This Newport Classic recording also features the Sine Nomine Singers in several pieces by Villa-Lobos including three of the ten songs from a set which the composer wrote in 1919 called Canções Típicas Brasileiras [Kahn-soigns TEE-pee-cas Brah-zeel-AIR-ish]- Typical Brazilian Songs. Let's listen to two of these now: Estrela é Lua Nova [Es-TREL-ah eh LU-ah NAH-va] (The Star is a New Moon) and Cabôcla de Caxangá [Kah-BOH-kla deh Kash-ung-AH] (The Half-Indian, Half-White Girl from Caxangá).

MUSIC: Villa-Lobos: Two Songs [Newport Classic 85518, tracks 13, 14]]

FLAXMAN: Two songs from a set of ten Tipical Brazilian Songs by Heitor Villa-Lobos [HAY-tor VEE-la-LOH-bohsh]. We heard the Sine Nomine Singers on a 1991 Newport Classic compact disc.

You are listening to "Upstairs, Downstairs, Villa-Lobos" on Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[Optional one-minute break not included in the 58-minute total timing]

FLAXMAN: I explained at the beginning of this program that when I lived in a two-story home in southern Oregon, I used to keep compact discs on both floors. Upstairs I had the ones I enjoyed the most. Downstairs I kept the composers I listened to much less often. Heitor Villa-Lobos [HAY-tor VEE-la-LOH-bohsh] was split between the two floors.

In my role as your guide for Compact Discoveries, I am exploring in this hour the "upstairs" works of Villa-Lobos, which includes the composer's First Piano Concerto.

I first heard the First as a child growing up in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City, listening to classical music radio station WQXR. I still remember the moment when its romantic, lyrical theme first appeared. It is one of those melodies you don't forget; one you can't get out of your mind even if you want to, and I didn't want to.

MUSIC: Theme from the first movement of the First Piano Concerto by Villa-Lobos [London 430 628-2, CD-1, track 1]

FLAXMAN: I went out and purchased the record of Villa-Lobos' First Piano Concerto, and in the years that followed I literally wore the LP out. But I could never find another copy, and I heard it played on the radio only once more in all these years.

My record didn't call this the First Piano Concerto, incidentally, just the Piano Concerto. At the time, it was the only one Villa-Lobos had written. Many years later, when the world and I switched from LPs to CDs, I hoped that someone would put out this all-but-forgotten modern masterpiece in a state-of-the-art stereo version, but no one did - for several years.

Then, all of a sudden, as if by magic, there it was. Not the Piano Concerto. Not even just the First Piano Concerto. But a two-CD set of Villa-Lobos' five - count 'em - five piano concertos, four of which I had not at all realized he had written!

The set is on the London label, performed by pianist Cristina Ortiz with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Miguel Gómez-Martinez. The sound is not the best I've ever heard, but it is acceptable, and it is wonderful to have that great First Piano Concerto performed so well - without the clicks and clacks of my old LP.

Villa-Lobos' First Piano Concerto is still my favorite, because it combines catchy tunes with real depth. There are other romantic, Villa-Lobos melodies in the other concertos, but they are less successful, to me, than the First. The Fourth, in particular, is chock full of lyric themes, but is a little too syrupy for even my romantic tastes. Yet it's upstairs. It just can't be separated from its relatives.

Here's the first movement of the First Piano Concerto. Listen for that Rachmaninov-like romantic theme, which I played for you a minute ago.

MUSIC: Villa-Lobos: First Piano Concerto, First Movement [London 430 628-2, CD-1, track 1]

FLAXMAN: The first movement of the First Piano Concerto by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Cristina Ortiz was the pianist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Miguel Gómez-Martínez.

The first piece we heard in this hour was the Bachianas Brasileiras [Bahk-YAH-nahsh Brah-zeel-AIR-ish] No. 5 by Villa-Lobos. Villa-Lobos wrote nine Bachianas Brasileiras [Bahk-YAH-nahsh Brah-zeel-AIR-ish], and the name itself states what is about the only thing they all have in common: the mixed musical influences of Bach and Brazil. Otherwise they differ widely in instrumentation, number of movements, and length.

One movement from the four-movement Bachianas Brasileiras [Bahk-YAH-nahsh Brah-zeel-AIR-ish] No. 2 is often played as a stand-alone piece. It is called The Little Train of the Peasants. Other composers have imitated trains in music, but none more effectively than Villa-Lobos. In this Everest compact disc recording, the London Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Sir Eugene Goossens.

MUSIC: Villa Lobos: "The Little Train of the Caipira" from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2 [Everest EVC 9007, track 1]

FLAXMAN: "The Little Train of the Peasants" from Bachianas Brasileiras [Bahk-YAH-nahsh Brah-zeel-AIR-ish] No. 2 by Heitor Villa-Lobos [HAY-tor VEE-la-LOH-bohsh]. Sir Eugene Goossens conducted the London Symphony Orchestra on an Everest compact disc.

Villa-Lobos started his musical life as a cellist, but then he mastered the guitar, and he wrote a good share of music for that instrument. We'll conclude our tribute to Brazil's greatest composer with some more of his guitar music. First let's listen to two excerpts from his Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra. We'll hear the romantic theme from the first movement followed by the entire second movement. Narciso Yepes is the soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Garcia Navarro on a Deutsche Grammophon compact disc.

MUSIC: Villa-Lobos: Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra [DGG 423 700-2, track 1, excerpt]

MUSIC: Villa-Lobos: Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra [DGG 423 700-2, track 2]

FLAXMAN: Two excerpts from the Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra by Heitor Villa-Lobos [HAY-tor VEEla-LOH-bohsh] performed by Narciso Yepes with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Garcia Navarro.

I'll bring "Upstairs, Downstairs, Villa-Lobos" and this edition of Compact Discoveries to an end with one more guitar piece, the Prelude No. 1. Once again, Narciso Yepes is the guitarist.

MUSIC: Villa-Lobos: Prelude No. 1 for Guitar[DGG 423 700-2, track 16]
[Down and under...]

FLAXMAN: Narciso Yepes performing the Prelude No. 1 for Guitar by Heitor Villa-Lobos, brings to a conclusion this hour of Compact Discoveries. Thanks for listening! And remember, your comments are always welcome. E-mail me through my website: www.fredflaxman.com, where you'll find lots of Compact Discoveries articles. That's www.fredflaxman.com. This program was written and produced by your guide, Fred Flaxman, who was helped with Portuguese pronunciation by his Brazilian daughter-in-law, Tereza Flaxman. Compact Discoveries is a production of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.

MUSIC: [fades out at 58:00]


30-Second Promo for Program Number 22
"Music for Hanukkah"

MUSIC: Klezamir The Bluebird of Happiness [Klezamir KL103, track 1]

FLAXMAN: Hi, this is Fred Flaxman. Every year at this time we get bombarded with Christmas music. But what about Hanukkah? What music is appropriate for the Jewish holiday? Find out next time on Compact Discoveries!

TAG: [Sunday at 7 p.m. on 90.7, WXEL-FM.]

MUSIC: fade out at 30 seconds

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