The first half of Brazilian music celebrated the work of South America’s most famous classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. François-Xavier Roth led the LSO through the repeated bass rhythms and striking orchestration of ‘Dança frenetica’ with a light touch. After Darius Milhaud’s suite of twelve dances, notable for their audacious polytonality, we returned to Villa-Lobos with a stirring rendition of Chôros No.10 (the Barbican Diary-advertised Amazonas not played) in which flute birdcalls and rainforest sounds give way to a descending phrase on trombones, before chorus and strings develop the phrase into the vigorous closing section of rapid repetition set against more sweeping statements, until the final rousing release.
After the interval, Gilberto Gil arrived to perform accompanied by his quartet of musicians and the LSO. As a luminary of the ‘tropicalia’ movement in Brazil during the late-1960s, the guitarist and singer-songwriter pioneered the fusion of native and western genres, along with other forward-thinking artists like Caetano Veloso and Os Mutantes, mixing samba
and bossa nova
rhythms with rock and folk music.
Relaxed and happy he took us through a set of his compositions and those of compatriots like Dorival Caymmi and Antonio Carlos Jobim, making for a wonderful performance, inviting intimacy with the sell-out audience. The lovely, wandering bossa nova
guitar chords of ‘Eu vim da Bahia’ gave Gilberto’s son Bem and violinist Nicolas Krassik room to pick out ringing melodic phrases together.
Gil introduced ‘Futurível’ as a song that he wrote while imprisoned. The Brazilian military regime that took power in 1964 saw Gil and Caetano Veloso as being a threat and the pair were held for nine months, before a period of exile in London. Having been given a guitar by one of the sergeants, he proceeded to write several songs over the subsequent months. It has stood the test of time – a melodic, memorable and unpredictable bossa
With ‘Lamento sertanejo’, arranger Jaques Morelenbaum’s cello came to the fore, demonstrating his flair for bringing musical traditions together without compromising the integrity of either. ‘Não Tenho Medo da Morte’ (I’m Not Afraid of Death) with Gil’s pure voice accompanied only by a rhythm tapped out on his guitar, raised hairs on the back of necks and reminded us of mortality. Gil has been experimenting musically for more than forty years, but the evidence here suggests that he has lost none of his enthusiasm for doing so.