Villa-Lobos’ Violin Sonatas


VILLA-LOBOS: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-3 / Emmanuele Baldini, vln; Pablo Rossi, pno / Naxos 8.574310

Here are three early works by Villa-Lobos, dating from 1912, 1914 and 1920, which show the famed composer in a very different light from his later style. Although there are indeed some individual touches in this music, it more closely resembles the French Impressionist school mixed in with a bit of Brazilian flavoring.

Italian violinist Emmanuele Baldini plays them with a rapturous legato but occasionally edgy bowing, and pianist Pablo Rossi accompanies in an appropriate style. Were these unearthed sonatas by a little-known French composer from the early 20th century they would surely be acclaimed as superb pieces worthy of revival, but the thing I listen for is how Villa-Lobos developed from this point, and the style he was to present from the early 1930s on is light-years beyond what one hears on this disc.

Of course, the same is true of many of Scriabin’s piano piece and sonatas from his early years, which sound so much like Chopin that one would think they were rediscovered pieces from the Polish composer’s oeuvre. Particularly in the first sonata, subtitled “Désespérance” or despair, the music tends to ramble a bit much. Despite its brevity—one movement lasting 9:25—it tends to drag and wear out its welcome.

Yet surprisingly, the second sonata, from only two years later, shows a great improvement. Here, Villa-Lobos is more concise in his theme statements and the music is developed better. He’s still using modes and pentatonic scales associated with French composers, but his use of them is more assured and he manages to blend these foreign influences into his developing personal style. Even so, there is a surprisingly rambling piano solo in the midst of the first movement that just doesn’t fit, and the second movement rambles a bit too much, so he still had some improving to do.

The third sonata, written when he was 33 years old, finally gets everything right, though it is still beholden to Debussy in harmony and even in its basic structure. Here we can tell that everything is starting to coalesce; in a way, this is the only one of the three sonatas presented here worthy of perpetuation, early in his output though it may be. The second movement is particularly inventive and original, with some flashes of the Villa-Lobos to come, and the third includes some fascinating atonal excursions showing some of the influences of that time.

By and large, I’d characterize this CD as a curiosity rather than a necessary disc except perhaps for Villa-Lobos lovers who want to collect everything he ever wrote.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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