Saturday, July 30, 2016

The String Quartets of Heitor Villa-Lobos

The Cuarteto Latinoamericano originally embarked on recording the seventeen string quartets of Heitor Villa-Lobos for Sono Luminus as a boxed set that was released in time for the 50th anniversary of the composer’s death, which took place on November 17, 1959. It was reissued in November of 2015 and was made available for digital download by Naxos this past June. Villa-Lobos composed his first quartet in 1915. He was in his late twenties by then but was just beginning to venture into serious composition, having established himself as a performer. This last quartet was completed in 1957, two years before his death, although sketches for an eighteenth quartet were found after his death.

Villa-Lobos was so prolific in so many different genres of composition that it is not surprising that his string quartet output would fill six CDs. As might be expected, there is a generous supply of energetically rhythmic movements across the entire canon; and there is no shortage of tropes associated with Villa-Lobos’ “Brazilian sound.” On the other hand there is also no shortage of movements that amount to his latter-day reflections on classical traditions; and there is a quiet introspection to many of his slow movements that is as reflective of his time in Europe as it is of his “home thoughts.”

Sono Luminus did not release the quartets in their numerical order. It would seem that the highest priority was grouping them in a way that would fit comfortably on those six CDs. Since the quartets were spaced out across Villa-Lobos’ life, there is no reason to suppose that they are connected by some underlying logic. They are simply another example of how prolific Villa-Lobos could be as a composer. They are best appreciated individually, meaning that their distribution across the Sono Luminus box should not be an issue. From that point of view, listening to any one of the seventeen selections in this collection should be enough to make one wonder why none of these quartets have found a secure place in the repertoire of the current batch of string quartet ensembles making regular tours across this country and around the world.

No comments: