Villa-Lobos Choros, Vol 3
John Neschling has no equal in this repertoire and it’s fortunate for us that he completed his cycle of Villa-Lobos’s Chôros before a reportedly unhappy split with the São Paulo SO earlier this year. Neschling has often rescued Villa-Lobos from himself, looking benevolently at his elephantine orchestration, thinning and rebalancing where necessary, to reveal the 12-part Chôros as the unheralded imaginative leap they were. But evidently not much can be done about his gaudy lapses of taste.
As an example: compare Chôros No 3 with No 10. The earlier work, for male voices and wind instruments, is anchored around a breezy melodic hook that in a different context might have been a showstopper. In comparison, No 10 feels ludicrously overcooked, especially in the closing minutes as a choir evokes Red Indian chanting with all the subtlety of a John Wayne film. The work is meant to portray the primitive world and the information overload of competing orchestral strata in its opening moments is invigorating: in the same piece, Villa-Lobos slides from elevated invention towards banality – Neschling makes it hang together, and the kinetic vivacity of the orchestral playing is mesmerising.
Two chamber Chôros – one for violin and cello, another for flute and clarinet – testify to the brilliance of Villa-Lobos’s counterpoint when he wasn’t trying to be overly fancy. Introduction to the Chôros, too, is delightful because there’s no compositional grandstanding. The 40-minute Chôros No 12 is bigger-than-life, and a mess as it buckles under the weight of clashing styles and schizoid mood-changes. But it’s a sonic spectacle: with Villa-Lobos you quickly learn to take the rough with the smooth.