Villa-Lobos: Missa São Sebastião & other sacred music
CDH55470 Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
At the end of his life, however, two commissions resulted in further sacred choral works, and in these Villa-Lobos literally bid farewell to the world. A request from Pope Pius XII himself, via the Italian Association of St Cecilia, to celebrate ‘Lourdes Year’, resulted in a fine Magnificat-Alleluia for mezzo-soprano (or contralto), chorus, and orchestra, which was first performed at the Teatro Municipal, Rio de Janeiro, on 8 November 1958, conducted by Edoardo di Guarnieri. A further performance was given the following September. The terminally ill composer, recently discharged from hospital, attended, and was visibly moved by his own music. The audience gave him a spontaneous and generous ovation, and he waved feebly from his seat. This was the last concert he ever attended, and weeks later he was dead.
Magnificat-Alleluia alternates the text of the Magnificat (contralto solo) with blocks of ‘Alleluia’, sung by the whole chorus. The intricate polyphony of São Sebastião or of the huge choral tour de force Bachianas brasileiras No 9, is eschewed. The choral writing of the ‘Alleluias’ is Gabrieli-like in its resounding antiphonies from voice to voice, and in its melismatic cadences; melismatic or chant-like too is the setting of the Magnificat text. Singer and chorus eventually unite in a surging, climactic ‘Amen’.
from notes by Simon Wright © 1993