Renee Fleming;  Alfred Heller - Forest of the Amazon (Villa-Lobos)  (Delos 1037)
Item# V0461
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Renee Fleming;  Alfred Heller - Forest of the Amazon (Villa-Lobos)  (Delos 1037)
V0461. RENÉE FLEMING, w. Alfred Heller Cond. Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra: THE FOREST OF THE AMAZON (Heitor Villa-Lobos). [Unquestionably the loveliest singing we've ever heard from La Fleming, and were there for those initial Desdemona performances! This is a 'keeper'!] Delos 1037, recorded 1994-95, Moscow. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 013491103723

CRITIC REVIEW:

“THE FOREST OF THE AMAZON is a 20 canto musical poem based on W.H. Hudson's novel GREEN MANSIONS. GREEN MANSIONS tells the story of Rima, the child who can speak in the tongues of the animals. No twee 'Doolittling' here. This is much more mystical. The music catches tragedy and ecstatic relaxation and the solo voice plays an anchoring role. We need not trouble to note the plot. Suffice to say that it attracted MGM who commissioned the score from Villa-Lobos. The studio made the film with some leading stars of the day (Audrey Hepburn as Rima, Anthony Perkins, Lee J Cobb. Mel Ferrer directed). Critically speaking it did not do well. The composer was told not to orchestrate the music because the studio had their own orchestrators. He was having none of this and completed the score in full-staved version. However when the film was premiered in March 1959, Alfred Heller, who worked closely with the composer and whose research and patiently inspired direction made this disc possible, was appalled to find that little of Villa-Lobos's score had survived on the soundtrack. Instead there was a suits-friendly score by Bronislaw Kaper, some Villa-Lobos simulacra and a few ... a very few ... real Villa-Lobos sequences. The composer was angry. Fortunately for us he decided to create the present tone poem from the extensive music he had written for celluloid. This is the end result.

The Overture rudely, restlessly and raucously bursts in with brass and rasping male chorus and an ever-mobile string underpinning. Much of the music is feral and strides effortlessly between THE FIREBIRD and THE RITE OF SPRING. The work is coeval with Bohuslav Martinu's EPIC OF GILGAMESH and some of the enigmatic music - especially the percussion lines - recall the Czech's writing in that work. Villa-Lobos was a gifted tune-smith and no doubt Hollywood realised this even if they treated his music with their usual ignorance. The jaunty Baxian/Waltonian accent is also at play in the Fourth Bird Song.

The composer is good at evoking the weighty majesty of natural spectacle as at the end of track 3. That track is a good one to sample - a miniature tone poem within a tone poem. This momentously majestic mood is well to the fore in the glories of the soprano's vocalise over the chattering horns and shadowing string carols of the Finale (20). Fleming's held note at 2.15 (20) is a thing of wonder and if we are prompted to remember a certain famous Bachianas that is no bad thing.

The soprano appears role in four Bird Songs (tracks 4, 6, 10, 13) in which she vocalises - sometimes briefly. There is also a Vocalise so called (7). The Second Bird Song places the solo melisma discreetly amid high strings, woodwind bird song and harp riffs. The effect places the music between Debussy's FAUN and Roussel's luxuriant First Symphony. The Vocalise in track 7 picks up and caringly spins the confident melody which winds in wonder through the end of Nature's Dance (track 5); a lyrical impulse also candidly on display at the end of Sails (track 8). Renée Fleming reminds us that this is the same Villa-Lobos who wrote the famous Fifth Bachianas. Listen to the pacing and dynamic balancing she despatches with such feeling in Love Song - the third of four songs (Sails, Twilight Song, Love Song, Sentimental Melody) in which words are sung. The words, which are printed in the English monoglot booklet, are given in the sung Portuguese as well as parallel English translation. Collectors of Fleming's recorded legacy must catch this CD which was taken down before she began her rapid ascent to household star status. Listen to the tasteful but untamed way she handles the diminuendo 'hairpin' at the end of Love Song. Fleming's voice is all peaches and glamour and, at this stage in her meteor flight, blessedly low on the matron-like vibrato that drives people away from serious music the world over and which yet seems to be affected as a style ornament 'to die for' by vocal coaches. Sheerly delightful.

Film music buffs might easily overlook this release. In fact it should be of prime concern to them as the most faithful recreation of Villa-Lobos's score, available. This Delos disc is a rare chance to appreciate the epic Villa-Lobos. It was discerning of the company to rescue this recording from the Russian Consonance label. It has been securely and splendidly re-mastered by Jeff Mee.”

- Rob Barnett, MusicWebInternational