Saturday, November 3, 2018

Complex music from a child-like world

Villa-Lobos: Guia Prático, Petizada, Brinquedo de Roda, Historias da Carochinha

In the early 1930s Heitor Villa-Lobos published his collection of 137 children's songs from around Brazil, entitled Guia Prático (Practical Guide). This was an educational project he undertook as Director of SEMA (the national Superintendency of Artistic and Musical Education).

This is only the fourth recording of the complete Guia Prático. The first, by Villa's friend Anna Stella Schic, released in 1976, has the merit of authenticity, if not the same qualities of pianism or recording technology of later releases. Clara Sverner had a fine complete Guia Prático in 2007, on the Biscoito label in Brazil, which might be hard to find on disc, but it's available for download and streaming. The gold standard for all of Villa-Lobos's piano music, though, is Sonia Rubinsky's complete set, released in the first decade of the 2000s and now available in an affordable Naxos box set. Her Guia Prático is outstanding in its sensitivity to the childlike nuances of the music, without any loss of virtuosity in these often very difficult works.

This really is a tightrope walk: playing through works of significant technical and musical complexity without losing the link to child-like innocence and wonder. Villa-Lobos had been down this path before, with his two sets (a third was lost) of A Prole do Bebê, modernist masterpieces exploring the world of children, but requiring virtuoso technique.  Marcelo Bratke has this technique, and seems very much at home in the musical worlds of Brazil's regions. As well played as this music is, though, I think it's complementary to Rubinsky's set, rather than in any sense supplanting it.

I'm usually a big fan of Naxos sound engineering, though there are occasional missteps along the way in the Rubinsky set. Quartz delivers very lifelike sound for Bratke here, and I have no complaints about the sound in this album, or in the previous three releases. Bratke's complete piano set began in 2010, with the second release in 2012 and the third in 2013. These two discs comprise the 4th and 5th volumes, which means there are probably three discs to come.  They will be welcome when they arrive.

This disc will be released on November 16, 2018.

This review is also posted at Music for Several Instruments.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A new recording of O Martírio dos Insetos

Here's a coincidence: in my previous post I talked about Villa-Lobos's O Martírio dos Insetos, written in 1917/1925 for violin and orchestra. Of course I said we really need a good recording of this fascinating work. That's something I've said many times about many Villa-Lobos works over the past 25 years, and there are only a few major works still left unrecorded (in spite of the exaggerated talk about how prolific a composer he was). And now here is an upcoming recording of the work, from Naxos naturally, though not the full violin and orchestra version, but an arrangement for violin and piano by Ricardo Averbach. I'm looking forward to this disc, due for release on December 7, 2018. A nice Christmas present for all the Villa-Lobos fans out there!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Heifetz plays Villa-Lobos

Here is a real find by Rodrigo Roderico, who has been posting some great Villa-Lobos performances on YouTube. A Mariposa na Luz is the final movement of O Martírio dos Insetos, a work for violin and orchestra that Villa-Lobos wrote in 1925 (the first two movements) and 1917 (the finale). It's played here by one of the 20th century's greatest instrumentalists, Jascha Heifetz, with Donald Voorhees conducting the Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra. This is from a 1946 radio broadcast on NBC.

The Martyrdom of the Insects is a work that should be much better known. Here is a more recent performance of the entire work. Daniel Guedes is the violinist, with the Miami University Symphony Orchestra, under Ricardo Averbach. We badly need a good recording of this work!

Friday, October 5, 2018

A new Marcelo Bratke piano release


Here's a release I've been waiting for a while: the latest in Marcelo Bratke's series of complete piano music by Heitor Villa-Lobos. This 2-CD set, billed as vol. 4 & 5, will be released on October 19, 2018. Included are all 11 of the albums of Guia Pratico, plus three other works: Petizada, Brinquedo de Roda & Historias da Carochinha. Watch for my review soon, at Music for Several Instruments (and I'll also post it here at The Villa-Lobos Magazine).

The cover photo of Marcel Bratke makes reference to the photo on the back, with the composer at the blackboard. I've misplaced the photo credit, if I ever had it, but I'm busy looking on the web, & will add it here if I find it. Great shot!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Musical synchronicity with Prokofiev and Villa-Lobos

Here's a new video from Simone Menezes, in which she compares two modernist works written in 1916/17, one in St. Petersburg and the other in Rio de Janeiro.

This really is a case of musical synchronicity: Prokofiev's First Symphony "Classical", written as an homage to Haydn, has so many similarities to Villa-Lobos's Sinfonietta no. 1 "À memória de Mozart". While the Prokofiev work is one of the staples of the orchestral repertoire, the Villa-Lobos work is almost unknown. If you're in Switzerland later this month, you'll have a chance to hear Simone conduct this work with the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne.  This concert will be broadcast on Swiss Radio Classic; I'll let you know the date and time.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Hommage à Chopin

Here's another Villa-Lobos recording I missed this spring. Marcel Worms' disc Inspired by Chopin includes Hommage à Chopin, which Villa wrote for the 100th Anniversary of Chopin's death in 1949. I find this a very moving work. Though Villa-Lobos was hardly built in the Chopin mold, the two composers had a lot in common. In André Gide's words, "Chopin paid no attention to symmetry and pendants." Villa-Lobos's piano music has obvious connections to Chopin's works, but probably more important was Chopin's influence in the development of the Guitar Etudes and especially the Preludes, which Villa-Lobos had written earlier in the decade.

This is a very fine performance of this work.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

One-hit wonders

Don Hogan Charles for @NYTimes

Today is Robert Indiana's birthday; the great artist, who died earlier this year, was born on September 13, 1928. I tweeted this quote from former Dallas Museum of Art Director Maxwell Anderson:
He was an artist of consequence who gets mistaken for a one-hit wonder.
Indiana's "one-hit" was, of course, his LOVE sculpture, which the artist himself called "the 20th century's most plagiarized work of art." When Indiana died in May 2018 many of us took the opportunity to see what a great body of work he had produced beyond the one work we all knew.

I'm sure everyone knows where I'm going with this! I happened this morning upon this ICA Classics disc which was released in April 2018, a very fine disc with two superb live recordings never before released on CD:

Both the Schumann and Dvorak cello concertos are quite outstanding, but what really interested me was the bonus piece, a live recording of the Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5, from the Edinburgh Festival on August 23, 1962. Galina Vishnevskaya sings, and Mstislav Rostropovich leads 7 cellos from the London Symphony Orchestra, in a very special performance.

In my Villa-Lobos life, the "one-hit wonder" part is obvious; promoting the "artist of consequence" part is how I spend much of my time every day.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

More about Lenny

The big musical event of this summer was Leonard Bernstein's Centennial on August 25th, and The Villa-Lobos Magazine got into the act with my earlier post about his 1963 Young People's Concert: "The Latin American Spirit". There's great archival information about this concert, and so much more, at the Library of Congress's Leonard Bernstein Collection Online, including these 12 pages of Bernstein's hand-written notes.

As well, Bernstein compiled this list of Villa-Lobos's percussion instruments:

As far as I know, Bernstein in his entire career didn't program any Villa-Lobos pieces other than Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5, either in concert or in the recording studio. This is a shame; he would have been especially good, I think, conducting Bachianas Brasileiras no. 2, 7 and 8, or Uirapuru, such a big hit for Leopold Stokowski. More importantly, I would have liked to hear him conduct a fully-staged version of Villa-Lobos's 1948 musical Magdalena. No less an authority than Richard Rodgers said that Magdalena was 25 years ahead of its time, and saw its influence, eight years after its run on Broadway, in Leonard Bernstein's score for West Side Story.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Lenny explains Villa-Lobos

For the Leonard Bernstein Centennial, a clip from his 1963 Young People's Concert: "The Latin American Spirit".

Here's the performance, by Nethania Davrath and 8 cellists from the New York Philharmonic.

Thanks so much to Rodrigo Roderico for posting these!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Villa-Lobos at Harvard

On February 21, 1945, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed an all-Villa-Lobos concert at the Saunders Theatre at Harvard, under the direction of the composer himself. The audience was in for a treat: this was the first performance outside of Brazil of Bachianas Brasileiras no. 7, one of Villa's greatest works, and among the best-loved. I'm not sure why only the last two movements were performed; the entire work was played at the world premiere in Rio de Janeiro the previous March. The next work was an even bigger coup for the BSO and Harvard (take that, Yale!): it was a world premiere, of Choros no. 11, written in Rio de Janeiro in 1925.

After the intermission came the orchestral version of Rudepoema which Villa-Lobos had made in 1932 from the original piano piece, written in the period 1921-26, and dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein. This was the third performance; the first was in Rio in 1942, and the second in Los Angeles the previous November. I don't believe there have been too many performances of this odd work since then.

This is a concert that's high on the list I keep next to the controls of my time machine.

Via Boston Symphony Orchestra Digital Archive.

Speaking of which, here's a picture (by an unidentified photographer) from the previous year, of Villa-Lobos in the Green Room at Symphony Hall in Boston.