Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bachianas Brasileiras, No. 5

A customer mentioned the "Cantilena" from Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras, No. 5 the other day, and nothing would do but I must find it and hear it. A composition intended for one voice and eight cellos sounds intriguing at the least, does it not? Equally intriguing, when I went looking, was the discovery that a Bachiana is a piece composed somewhat in the style of J.S. Bach--in this case, as the title would imply, with a heavy seasoning of Brazilian tradition. Frankly, I don't have enough classical insight to judge whether Villa-Lobos got much of Bach in there (I was always naively under the impression that the only person who could truly claim to compose in the style of J.S. Bach was Johann Sebastien himself, though I suppose anyone is welcome to the elements he used)--but what Villa-Lobos accomplished unequivocally was a stunning piece of music, which only grows more beautiful with repeated listening. Here is a sampling:

First, an instrumental version, with Antonio Meneses taking the lead on the cello:

And lo! the mandolins get their foot in the door again! Due to the somewhat staccato nature of the instrument, this version shows off the various interwoven parts of the piece with great clarity. Also, when was the last time you saw a mandocello? The group is the Modern Mandolin Quartet.

Still, no matter how fine the musician, no instrument is the human voice. There are many grand versions of the original arrangement in existence, with the full eight cellos, and many a fine soprano. There are also many versions for guitar and voice. This one is original in that the complexities of both guitar and voice are being navigated beautifully by a single musician, Salomé Sandoval.

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