Villa-Lobos tribute launches Brazilian music series at Arsht Center

By Lawrence Budmen

Heitor Villa-Lobos

The new Brazilian Classical Series made an auspicious debut Friday night at the Arsht Center with “Amazon Inspirations,” a tribute to Heitor Villa-Lobos. Founded by pianist Simone Leitao, this venture plans to focus on Brazilian artists and composers. Based on the high artistic quality of the initial presentation, the series should be an important addition to South Florida’s cultural landscape.

Villa-Lobos was Brazil’s most distinguished composer and one of the twentieth century’s most distinctive creative voices. His large catalogue of scores in almost every genre combined the swirling contemporary avant-garde compositional techniques of the 1920′s and 30′s with nationalist folkloric elements and the rigorous counterpoint of J.S. Bach.

The series of Bachianas Brasileiras illustrate the spell the Baroque master exerted on Villa-Lobos’ musical psyche.  As concert opener, the Prelude from  the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 was a hauntingly austere arioso for string orchestra. Indeed the finely sculpted melody and emotional potency of this vignette nearly equal Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio. Under Brazilian conductor Luiz Fernando Malheiro, the strings of the Miami Symphony exuded silky, lustrous tone and richly textured ensemble playing.

The Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, Villa-Lobos’ most famous composition, opens with a wordless Aria (Cantilena) that was written for legendary Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayao and has served as a vehicle for such diverse singers as Renee Fleming and Joan Baez.

Edna D'Oliveira

Edna D’Oliveira weaved a seamless line imbued with tinted vocal hues. The equivalent of a Brazilian Kathleen Battle, D’Oliveira commands a lovely voice employed with stellar musicianship. She manages to float her basically light soprano to mesmerizing effect. In the second Danca movement, D’Oliveira’s incisive rhythm and idiomatic fluency held her listeners spellbound. The accompanying cello ensemble was finely supportive; principal Ashley Garritson’s solo emerged darkly molten and expressive.

Simone Leitao

Momoprecoce Fantasy for piano and orchestra represented Villa-Lobos’ modernist vein. This score’s acid harmonics recall Stravinsky’s works for piano and instrumental ensemble, the orchestral writing no less spiky. Leitao was the capable, note-perfect soloist in this elaborate work, a concerto in everything but name. She was most convincing in the dreamy, rhapsodic sections in which she displayed stirring lyrical sweep. Except for a few moments when balances went awry, Malheiro keenly pinpointed the music’s spicy dissonance and verve.

Forest of the Amazon (1958) was one of the composer’s last works, a reworking of the score for the film Green Mansions. A generous fifteen-movement suite sampled this colorful, atmospheric mini tone poem. Only the briefness of some movements betrayed the music’s Hollywood origins.

Villa-Lobos’ orchestral wizardry is on full display here, evoking the color of the rain forest and mystery and fury of the endless jungle.The vocal Sentimental Melody is as beguiling a tune as the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5. D’Oliveira sang this gorgeous song winningly as well as the extensive vocal interjections. Employing an enlarged orchestra (with divided brass on each side), Malheiro led this epic work with idiomatic skill. The Miami Symphony responded vibrantly, enhanced by the spacious Knight Concert Hall acoustic.

Posted in Performances


One Response to “Villa-Lobos tribute launches Brazilian music series at Arsht Center”

  1. Posted Nov 24, 2009 at 11:40 am by mauro chantal

    Edna D’oliveira is a wonderful singer!

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