Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 3 in Budapest

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 3 is one of Villa-Lobos's greatest concertante works, but it's not programmed as often as it should be. Here's a fine version from Budapest, with Jean Louis Steuerman and the Hungarian National Philharmonic under Zóltan Kocsis. This was recorded at Béla Bartok National Concert Hall in 2015. Thanks to Rodrigo Roderico for this.

Friday, January 4, 2019


Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote a ballet score Rudá in 1951, based on his own story about the various pre-Columbian Amerindian civilizations: Aztec, Inca, Mayan and others. The work was premiered at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in 1954, with only an orchestral performance, I believe. Here are some costume designs by Iberê Camargo for a 1959 production that never came off.  Above is his design for the role of Conhori, while his backdrop design is below.

Here is a performance of Rudá by Orquestra do Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro under the direction of Mário Tavares.

A Brazilian composer you must know

The Ovalle Project: works for piano by Jayme Ovalle

The Brazilian composer Jayme Ovalle is a close contemporary of Heitor Villa-Lobos; he was born seven years after, and died four years before his much better-known compatriot. Like Villa-Lobos, Ovalle wrote a great deal of music for the piano throughout his career, and this splendid two-CD set by Andree-Ann Deschenes (whose Villa-Lobos I praised in 2017) shows Ovalle deserves a place amongst the great Brazilian composers for the piano, a group that also includes Camargo Guarnieri, Chiquinha Gonzaga and Ernesto Nazareth. But Ovalle is more like Chopin than the musical polymath Villa-Lobos; nearly everything he wrote was either a song or a piano piece.

But Ovalle's trajectory in music is similar to Villa-Lobos's in a number of other ways. Both melded erudite and popular styles, and combined Brazilian traditions of salon music with up-to-date European modernism, especially influenced by Debussy, Ravel and Satie. Like Villa-Lobos, Ovalle spent a good deal of his time outside of Brazil, in Europe and New York, and shared a cosmopolitan outlook that's often reflected in his music. Deschenes has chosen works that show the many facets of Ovalle's music, from Nazareth-style pieces in maxixe and choro styles, to characteristic, folk-like tunes reminiscent of Villa's Guia prático, and finally to more complex works like the splendid Third Lengenda. This collection has immediate appeal, with its lovely melodies and captivating rhythms, but it rewards close listening as well. Playing with intense virtuosity and cool control, Deschenes has done Ovalle and Brazilian music a great service with this project. Very highly recommended!

This review also appears at Music for Several Instruments.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Villa-Lobos at the piano

Villa-Lobos plays the Gaveau piano in the Paris apartment of Anna Stella Schic, his friend and eventual biographer. She also recorded the first more-or-less complete works for piano solo, available on 7 CDs. This photo (from the 1940s) is from the Museu Villa-Lobos; I found it at the Instituo Piano Brasileiro website.

In her 1987 book Souvenirs de l'indien blanc, Anna Stella Schic tells the story of the most important lost scores of Villa-Lobos: the Guitar Prelude #6, A Prole do Bebe suite #3, and the Choros #13 and 14 are possibly amongst the scores Villa-Lobos left for safe-keeping (!) with his Parisian concierge upon his return to Brazil in 1930.  The Prole do Bebe suite is a great loss for pianists!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Appealing music from Brazil's modernist tradition

Images of Brazil: music for violin & piano by Guerra-Peixe, Guarnieri, Villa-Lobos, Aguiar, Freire and Villani-Cortes

We have here one of only a few major Heitor Villa-Lobos works that are still without a modern, easy to buy recording: O Martírio dos Insetos, written in 1917/1925 for violin and orchestra. It's true that this Naxos disc, due to be released on December 7, 2018, includes not the full violin and orchestra version, but an arrangement for violin and piano by Ricardo Averbach. But it's so well played by violinist Francesca Anderegg and pianist Erika Ribeiro, and it's such a marvellous piece, that I'd feel like a Grinch for complaining. The work is in Villa-Lobos's full-on modernist style, with the added bonus of Villa's gift for musically communicating his detailed knowledge of the natural world.

Though the rest of this program comes after Villa-Lobos's time, most is in Villa's particularly home-grown modernist style, a blend of advanced compositional and instrumental technique; the folklore of African and Brazilian Indian traditions; and the folk music (and salon music) of Europe, especially from the Iberian peninsula. A good example is the 4th Sonata for Violin & Piano by a leading composer of the generation following Villa-Lobos, Camargo Guarnieri. It's an energetic and passionate work which slides quite naturally into the vacant slot left with Villa's death in 1959. Much of the rest of the program is lighter, more melodic and romantic, and less erudite, but it's all very appealing, and beautifully played by Anderegg and Ribeiro. Highly recommended.

This disc will be released on December 7, 2018.

This review is also posted at Music for Several Instruments.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Poema de Itabira

Contralto Maura Moreira sings Heitor Villa-Lobos's masterful song Poema de Itabira, with Walter Hendl conducting the National Symphony Orchestra. This was recorded at the 4th Inter-American Music Festival, at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia MD, in 1968, and we once again thank Rodrigo Roderico for bringing this to our attention.
"In 1941, Villa-Lobos composed what is perhaps his most ambitious and original work for solo voice with piano or with orchestra, entitled Poema de Itabira, on a text by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, dedicated to Marian Anderson. In his work the composer has endeavoured to use the human voice as a musical instrument, making it in effect the soloist in a kind of concerto for voice and orchestra. The music has no overt Brazilian elements, but may be regarded as impregnated with Brazilian 'atmosphere'."
- Denis Stevens, A history of song, 1970
I've posted about Villa-Lobos's relationship with Marian Anderson a number of times at The Villa-Lobos Magazine. I'll plunder a couple of them with this interesting information:

The year before Marian Anderson's Easter Sunday 1939 concert on The Mall in Washington DC, the great singer met Villa-Lobos in Rio de Janeiro. The two hit it off, and we have this fine photograph (with Mindinha) to document the friendship. This was taken at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on March 14, 1945, at a reception in the composer's honour.

Allan Keiler, in Marian Anderson: a singer's journey (University of Illinois Press, 2002), continues the story:
"She was struggling to learn the Poema de Itabira, a difficult work both rhythmically and melodically, for solo voice and orchestra by Villa-Lobos, which she was scheduled to perform at a pair of concerts with Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony in December [1954]. Set to a Portuguese text by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the Poema protrays the emotionally desperate feelings of de Andrade's characters, orchestrated so as to conjure up the starkness of the desert of Itabira. Anderson had met Villa-Lobos during the war while on a tour of South America. It was with Anderson's voice in mind that Villa-Lobos had composed the Poema several years later, dedicating the work to Anderson. Never having sung it before, she wanted badly to satisfy the composer." (p. 268)
There doesn't seem to be a surviving recording of Marian Anderson singing this work. Indeed, I've never come across it on CD. Baritone Renato Mismetti gives an impressive performance of the work (in the voice & piano version, with Maximiliano de Brito providing the accompaniment) on this video.

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.