Antonio Meneses Plays Villa-Lobos Concertos

Maestro Karabtchevsky and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra are past masters of Villa-Lobos’ music. After all, they recorded a complete cycle of his surviving symphonies — plus some other works.

Those recordings set the standard for Villa-Lobos or4chestral performances. And this release maintains that standard. This time three works for cello and orchestra are featured.

The Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 50 was completed in 1915, when Villa-Lobos was 28. It was his first major work for orchestra and his inexperience shows. The orchestrations are a little ambitious. And youthful enthusiasm carries the listener along, rather than rigorously developed motifs. And that’s fine with me.

Villa-Lobos wrote the Fantasia for Cello and Orchestra when he was 58. As the title implies, this is a free-wheeling work. But by this time Villa-Lobos was at the height of his creativity. It’s a beautifully crafted work that explores the expressive qualities of the cello.

The Cello Concerto No. 2 came eight years later, in 1953. The New York Philharmonic premiered it with cellist Aldo Parisot. Villa-Lobos and Parisot worked together to fine-tune the piece. This is a true showpiece for the cello. It’s challenging, yet playable.

Antonio Meneses is a world-class cellist, and also a native of Brazil. That’s important. Villa-Lobos was inspired by his country’s music. But he didn’t use that inspiration overtly. But it’s still there. And a Brazilian steeped in the culture can easily spot it — and know how to interpret it.

That quality made the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra’s symphonic cycle definitive. And the same is true for the partnership of the orchestra, conductor, and Antonio Meneses.

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 and 2
Fantasia for Cello and Orchestra
Antonio Meneses, cello
Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra; Isaac Karabtchevsky, conductor
Naxos 8574531

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