Outrageous, ravishing and brash by turns, this disc could well attract a cult following beyond the polite confines of the classical choral set. Primarily taking keyboard pieces from Bach and the romantic repertoire and arranging them for an “orchestra of voices”, Villa-Lobos created these challenging transcriptions for a teachers’ choir as part of music education materials written for Rio de Janeiro’s public schools in the 1930s.

São Paulo Symphony Choir

Under the astute direction of Valentina Peleggi, the São Paulo Symphony Choir brings a warm, rich sound to their task. They are at their best in the slow, lyrical vein of works like Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words No 9 or Schumann’s Träumerei, and charming in Schubert’s Ständchen (sung in Portuguese). More amazing is the arrangement of Chopin’s Waltz No. 7 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 64, No 2, where the singers abandon themselves to the swirling dance with stunning effect. Rachmaninov’s C Sharp Minor Prelude, Op. 3, No 2 is arresting, even if over-the-top.

Villa-Lobos is well known for his love of Bach, and his transcriptions of preludes and fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier exhibit extraordinary skill in throwing important motivic ideas into relief against the rest of the texture. Some of these arrangements, such as the C Major Fugue, BWV846 are a stretch for the singers, eliciting some less than lovely sounds at times, but the composer’s own choral version of Bachianas Brasilieras No 9 is given a rapturous rendition, bringing this unusual recital, full of first recordings, to a captivating close.

Listen on Apple Music

Composer: Villa-Lobos
Work: Choral Transcriptions
Performers: São Paulo Symphony Choir/Valentina Peleggi
Label: Naxos 8574286

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