Gulyas Villa-Lobos Proprius

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Complete Works for Solo Guitar
Five Preludes 
Suite Populaire Brésilienne 
12 Studies 
Georg Gulyás (guitar)
rec: 2022, Petrus Church, Sweden
Proprius PRCD2094 [80]

Had Heitor Villa-Lobos written nothing more than the Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No 5, his name would still have found a place in the annals of those who created music of great beauty, unlimited longevity and popularity. Composed originally for voice and an orchestra of at least 8 cellos, Villa Lobos also made an arrangement for voice and guitar. Such is the beauty and uniqueness of this music that it has been subsequently arranged for voice and orchestra, orchestra only, guitar and flute, guitar and cello, voice and piano, clarinet and cello, orchestra and trumpet, among others. However in addition to this absolute masterpiece, Villa-Lobos composed more than 2,000 other works which earned him the appellation: ‘single most significant figure in 20th century Brazilian Art music’.

While the classical guitar may have had its genesis in Spain, many factors interplayed to see it develop quite magnificently in Ibero-America. Eminent Spanish players concertized there regularly, and Segovia was domiciled in Montevideo from 1937 until 1948 when his divorce from Paquita Madriguera was finalised. During those years he concertized widely in that continent. Indigenous masters such as Agustin Barrios further established the guitar’s popularity and later in the 20th century, globally acclaimed master Alirio Diaz further consolidated the instrument locally, and internationally, as a legitimate concert instrument.

Villa-Lobos was an accomplished classical guitarist, and a rare recording of him playing is extant. His prowess can be witnessed via social media, where he plays two of his original compositions for guitar. However Segovia’s account of their first meeting in Paris, in 1924, indicates a guitarist whose fingers had gone clumsy through lack of practice. Villa-Lobos was 37 at the time, and the pressures of other endeavours were probably given priority over guitar practice.

This recording purports to present the complete works of Villa Lobos for solo guitar. The programme is divided into two sections: the 5 Preludes and 12 Studies, along with the Suite Populaire Brésilienne. This is not the first recording of this music, and a quick review of the catalogue indicates recordings by Norbert Kraft, Anders Miolin (10 string), Zanon Fabio, and Frank Bungarten, among others.

The Suite Populaire was not written as a discrete entity, but compiled by Villa-Lobos from other pieces composed over an extended period. The first version was presented to a Parisian publisher in 1928. Because of the political climate in Brazil, Villa-Lobos was unable to return to Paris until 1948. By that time the music had still not been published, and the manuscript to the Valsa-Chôro (No 3) had been lost. He reconstructed it from sketches in his possession of bars 78-104. The original lost manuscript was re-discovered in 2006. Chôros No 1 was not included by Villa-Lobos in the Suite Populaire and is included here, an orphan, as a matter of classification convenience. The recording of Fabio Zanon follows the same initiative, while Norbert Kraft and Frank Bungarten list it as a discrete entity. This music is of significant importance in the repertory of the guitar, and over past years has been played and recorded on numerous occasions in various formats. It would be challenging to identify a recording artist who has not recorded at least one single piece from this collection.

For non-guitarists, the 5 Preludes and Suite Brésilienne will probably garner most favour, with some absolute treasures among this music. For guitarists, preferences among the recorded options will be, as always, individual and subjective. Tempi and musical ‘feel’ between the recordings varies significantly. Each player has their own preferred interpretation, hopefully reflecting an adherence to the published scores. There are occasions when what is recorded deviates unacceptably from what was written by Villa-Lobos; a good example is the recording of Prelude No 1 by Milos Karadaglic. It seems that even Villa-Lobos was fluid with his preferred interpretations of the 5 Preludes. Prior to recording these Preludes, (Westminster XWN 18137, 1955) Julian Bream had occasion to play them personally to Villa-Lobos, who frequently took the guitar from Bream to demonstrate an interpretive point which he wanted clarified.  A degree of interpretive disapproval by Villa-Lobos would have been a fair conclusion by Bream. Ironically, when the recording was released, Villa-Lobos purchased a number of copies and distributed them to friends as a personal gift. The 12 Studies are highly didactic, and written by a guitarist for guitarists. Although dedicated to Segovia, he was rather selective in which ones he played and recorded, having never committed all twelve to a single recording.

Georg Gulyás studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, 1998-2000 and at the Malmö Academy of Music 1986-1990. He also received a Soloist Diploma from the École Normale in Paris, 1997, and the Royal College of Music, Stockholm, 1998. He is Senior Lecturer in Guitar at Karlstad University.

It is difficult to conjecture exactly what performance requirement any listener would require beyond that on offer here. All the music is executed with technical prowess and sound musical judgement.  Despite so much of this music being already available, this recording is a poignant reminder of what treasures constitute the legacy of Villa-Lobos for the solo guitar repertory. This observation alone is a true accolade to Gulyás. The Suite Populaire Brésilienne and 5 Preludes provide memorable music enhanced by a master guitarist. Although the 12 Studies are less aurally embracing, there are plenty of examples of virtuosic engagement with the music. While the beautiful harmonies and melodies of Sor won’t be encountered here, Gulyás finds ‘additional’ music in the scores beyond some who have recorded them. Those who pursue a slavish dedication to original scores may have difficulties with Chôros No 1 where Gulyás takes personal liberties with inclusion of pizzicato and harmonics not in the published score; if anything, this enhances the original.

Proprius is not a mainstream label; however, those who seek sonic excellence to augment their listening pleasure will certainly be familiar with it. Outstanding discs from the past included Cantate Domino (PR SACD 7762), used frequently to demonstrate hi-fi equipment by retailers, and the excellent sampler PPS PROM 9601, which contains many sonic delights. The classical guitar is not the ideal instrument to demonstrate excellence in sonics, but just how much the recording quality of this disc expands appreciation of the performance, is quickly evident.

Finally, and in reality, the title of this disc is a misnomer. Also used on past recordings by Norbert Kraft, Fabio Zanon and Frank Bungarten, it does not represent the complete works of Villa-Lobos for solo guitar. These same scores are included in the Amsco Publication: Villa-Lobos Collected Works for Solo Guitar.  Such a title more precisely defines what we hear on this disc. A quick review of Villa-Lobos’ compositions will identify a number of additional pieces for solo guitar; already mentioned is the rediscovered score for Valsa- Chôro (No 3), albeit not available until 2006.

Zane Turner

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