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CD Review

Heitor Villa-Lôbos

String Quartets #2 & 7

Danubius Quartet
Marco Polo 8.223394 (Naxos) 60min
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The latest installment in the Danubius cycle of the Villa-Lôbos Quartets contains two of this composer's most enjoyable and immediately accessible works in the form.

Quartet 7, in particular, should appeal to anyone who enjoys Villa-Lôbos's Bachianas Brasileiras or Guitar Concerto. This quartet abounds in exotic colors, Brazilian-flavored tunes, and swirling, impressionist harmonies. However, it is much more than a mere succession of pretty melodies and striking effects: the score is tautly constructed and wonderfully well written for the four instruments. Villa-Lôbos gives the cello plenty of opportunities to sing, and the Danubius's Ilona Ribli makes the most of them.

Quartet 2 is a rather more austere work, though it too has its share of folk material and unusual string sonorities (such as the mesmerizing high arpeggios that introduce II). The last two movements are not quite up to the level of the opening pair, though that impression may be due in part to the bland and undercharacterized playing of the Danubius Quartet.

As in their versions of the Spohr String Quintets the Danubius has a tendency to gloss over contrasts of dynamics and pacing. For example, three separate tempos are indicated in IV – Allegro deciso, Presto, and Prestissimo final – but it's hard to hear any difference between them in this recording. No other recording of Quartet 7 is currently listed in Schwann/Opus, and this one is certainly well worth having despite my reservations.

Copyright © 1996, Thomas Godell