I've just received three new CDs from Mark Walmsley, Executive Producer at Brana Records. Most exciting is Villa-Lobos Live!, which includes two major works for piano and orchestra played by the legendary pianist Felicja Blumental.
Though I've only had the chance for a quick listen, it's clear that this is an important issue, on musical as well as historical grounds. The 5th Piano Concerto was dedicated to Felicja Blumental (1908-1991), who was born in Poland but who lived in Brazil from 1942. This splendid pianist played the work at its premiere in London in 1955 with the composer at the podium. An version of of the work with Blumental and Villa-Lobos playing with the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française has long been available as part of the 6-CD set Villa-Lobos par lui-meme. I'm anxious to hear these two works side by side.
The other major work is the excellent but underplayed Bachianas Brasileiras no. 3, written in 1938. This work matches Blumental with the Filarmonica Triestina. There's a trade-off here: this is a less accomplished orchestra, and certainly the work is less authoritatively interpreted by conductor Luigi Toffolo. However, I would argue this is a much greater work than the later, more flashy 5th Piano Concerto. More on this CD soon...
The other two CDs are interesting as well, and sound great. Felicja Blumental also plays piano in the CD Brazilian Forms. The big work here is Hekel Tavares Concerto in Brazilian Forms for Piano and Orchestra, a piece that sounds on first hearing surprisingly unlike Villa-Lobos. With conductor Anatole Fistoulari and the London Symphony Orchestra providing excellent support, the work is given the best possible presentation. Also on this CD are two works by Albeniz with Blumental accompanied by Italian orchestras.
On another CD soprano Annette Celine (Felicja Blumental's daughter) sings Cantigas - Brazilian Songs: music by Waldemar Henrique and Villa-Lobos, along with a sampling of the best South American composers of art songs. The three Villa-Lobos songs are all well-known, and among the composer's best: Cançâo Do Poeta Século XVIII, Nesta Rua, and Vióla Quebrada (one of my favourites, from the Chansons typiques bresiliennes, published in Paris in 1929). This is a marvellous recital - Celine's still strong voice combines with a completely solid grasp of the phrasing and rhythms of this music. Young pianist Christopher Gould provides excellent support, which is so important, since nearly every song has a piano accompaniment of some importance, and in some cases of distinction.
All three of these new CDs are warmly recommended.