VILLA-LOBOS:  Uirapurú.  Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4.  The Emperor Jones.
Odense Symphony Orch/Jan Wagner, cond.
BRIDGE 9129 (F) (DDD) TT:  61:36

Uiraperú first came to the attention of collectors via Leopold Stokowski's remarkable 1958 Everest recording with the "Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York" - actually the New York Philharmonic.This remains an essential performance for those who love music of Villa-Lobos, fortunately available on CD (Vanguard 9023).  Uiraperú is one of the composer's most exotic works, the story of a legendary bird that sings deep in the rain forest, a scenario that gives the composer ample opportunity to exploit a wide array of orchestral effects with many unusual percussion instruments including côco, tamborim, tambor surdo and rÈco-rÈco, plus a "violinophone"—a violin amplified by attachment of a resonating horn—to describe nocturnal animals, insects, glow-worms, crickets, owls, enchanted toads and "crawling things." 

While the Stokowski recording remains the definitive version, this fine new Bridge release is well worth owning.  It might seem odd for a Danish orchestra to be playing Brazilian music—but they do so with tonal beauty and virtuosity under Venezuelan conductor Jan Wagner, perfectly capturing the music's sensuous nature. The repeat of the first section is played as it is in Eleazar de Carvalho's Delos recording with the Orquestra Sinfônica da Paraiba. As a result both Wagner's and Carvalho's recordings are considerably longer than Stokowski's (18:11 and 20:45 compared with 14:03).  Also of interest on the new release is inclusion of The Emperor Jones written in 1956 for Mexican-American dancer and  choreographer JosÈ Limón.  This single-act ballet was produced for television and recorded by the Symphony of the Air with the composer conducting, a recording used for all performances, available on an Etcetera CD (1216). The score is unpublished - Jan Wagner found the manuscript among costume boxes in the archives of the Limón Institute.  The ballet is based on Eugene O'Neill's play about Brutus Jones, a fugitive from an American chain-gang who is ship-wrecked on a Caribbean island and becomes its ruler and tyrant. When his subjects revolt, he goes into the jungle to escape and must confront his primal fears—giving Villa-Lobos another opportunity to write "jungle music"—although not as effectively as in Uirapurú. The more familiar Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 fills out this CD.

Producer/engineer Henrik Wenzel Andreasen, working in the Carl Nielsen Hall in Odense, has achieved rich, defined orchestral textures appropriate for the music.  The only debit is that different sections of Emperor Jones aren't tracked.  TT is 22:26 - if you want to hear the dramatic final scene you must fast-forward about 19 minutes.  Which brings up another point—why is it CD producers don't put an ending track at the conclusion of CDs?  So often one only wishes to hear a specific section of a piece of music, often towards the end. Ideally each section would have its own track—but if each CD had an ending track this would help solve the problem. But I digress—and am looking forward to the forthcoming Ginastera CD on Bridge with the same forces.

R.E.B. (April 2003)