Kammermusik - en forme de Choros


July, 1996

The CD for this month is from Germany's Signum company, "Kammermusik - 'en forme de choros,'" with Die Kammersolisten der Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz. 

    Pfalz CD cover

The CD contains: 

  • Choros no. 7, for flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, violin and cello 
  • Quintet in the form of a choros, for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon 
  • Choros no. 2 for flute and clarinet 
  • Two choros (bis) for violin and cello 
  • Fantaisie concertante for piano, clarinet and bassoon 

The two duet choros duplicate items from the Villa Lobos par lui meme CD we looked at last month. The sound is certainly better in this release, recorded in 1989 in Heidelberg. What is lacking is the casual feeling of the street that a choros must have by definition. 
The first of the duet choros pieces is no. 2 for flute and clarinet, written in Rio de Janeiro in 1924; the second, "Deux choros (bis)" comes from Villa Lobos' stay in Paris, in 1929. It is surprising at first to hear more of Paris in the first, more of Brazil in the second. Villa Lobos writes, in Rio, as a modernist, a neo-classicist, a true European. Later, in France, there is the same "longing" for Brazil that shows up time and again during Villa Lobos' temporary exiles. 
That the choros is rooted in the music of the street there is no doubt in the music contained in the splendid collection Villa Lobos par lui-meme. The excellent players in the Signum CD, though, are playing European chamber music - this is the slightest bit too slick and too commercial. 

Of the other pieces, the most substantial work is the Quintet in the form of a choros, from Paris in 1928. The CD's notes, by Gabor Halasz, are often nearly incomprehensible, but he shrewdly points out the influence of Stravinsky in this work, one of Villa Lobos' neo-classic jewels. This is the best of the interpretations of the quintet that I've heard. 
Speaking of Stravinsky, it was that caustic gentleman who said 
    "Why is it when I hear a piece of music I don't like, it's always by Villa-Lobos?"

I wonder, though if he might not have been rather taken with this Quintet.

The works of Villa Lobos' last years often tend to be quite controversial. I like their spareness, and their echoes of Villa Lobos' Rio de Janeiro youth. Many see in the final years a decline, with a lack of substance and fire. For a composer who owes his popular success to bright colours, street rhythms and a touch of exotica, the last chamber works can sound thin, and often bleak. Seen in the context of a lifetime of music, though, there is something quite moving about the compositions of the 1950's. 
The coda to this life is often sad. There was physical distress from serious illness (cancer) after a robust life. There was self-doubt about his place as a composer, after the exuberant confidence, even swagger, that was a trademark of the man. There was the longing for home that he had felt even in happier times; this was more intense during his last decade, spent as much in America and Europe as in Brazil. This sadness touches his music more than a little. 
The last two paragraphs are quite a build-up, but here's an anti-climax: it would be an exageration to call the Fantaisie concertante of 1953, written in Paris, top-drawer Villa Lobos. I would say, though, that this work is a symptom not of a general decline, but of the inevitable uneven-ness that happens to even the greatest of prolific artists. 
All in all, an enjoyable concert, with only the last bit of authenticity missing.