Friday, July 2, 2010

Sonia Rubinsky Contest, v.5 winner & v.6 review

The contest is now over; thanks, everyone, for participating!

Congratulations to Pablo Lorenzo Barreto of the Canary Islands, the fifth winner of a CD from Sonia Rubinsky's complete set of Villa-Lobos's Piano Music on Naxos. Three more discs will be awarded, one each week until the entire set has been sent out. It's easy to enter: send an email to and tell me your favourite piano piece by Villa-Lobos. If you've already entered, your name stays in the pool.

The winner of Volume 6 will be drawn on Friday, July 2 (that's today!).

For the sixth edition of the Complete Piano Music, Rubinsky went to Paris to record at the Eglise Evangelique, Saint-Marcel, in March of 2006. This CD included both previously unrecorded (and unheard) pieces as well as some of Villa's greatest works for piano.

The minor novelties include the early works Carnaval de Pierrot and Bailado infantil, along with the 1952 waltz from the opera A menina das nuvens (the recent production of which made such a big stir in Brazil). This waltz was first recorded by Alfred Heller in 1991, soon after it was discovered in the Museu Villa-Lobos.  There are also two pieces included that make use of the interesting practice of millimetrization, which involves the transfer of contours of a natural scene onto the musical scale.  This technique is seen by the always-excellent James Melo (who again writes the liner notes for this release) as similar to the avant-garde experiments of Villa's close friend Edgard Varese.   An identical technique was invented by Joseph Schillinger, and may have been used by George Gershwin while writing Porgy & Bess in the mid-1930s.  I wonder if Villa-Lobos knew of Schillinger's work (and, as always, I wonder if Villa-Lobos knew Gershwin's music at all).  The works in question on this disc are the well-known New York Skyline Melody from 1939 (which also exists in an orchestral version), and the previously unrecorded Melodia da montanha, "Serra da Piedade de Belo Horizonte", from the early 1940s.  Villa-Lobos's final experiment with this technique is the 1944 Symphony #06, which has as its theme and model The Mountains of Brazil. 

But wait: there's more!  In 1939 Villa-Lobos used a similar technique to write his beautiful As Tres Marias, whose three movements are based on the patterns that three stars make in the constellation Orion.

Of the more substantial works on the disc, the stand-outs are Sul America (1925), Saudades das selvas brasileiras (1927), and, of course, Rudepoêma (1926).  Rudepoêma is probably Villa's greatest work for piano, and one of the great 20th century works by any composer.  Rubinsky's version certainly has the requisite virtuosity, though some may prefer Heller, Friere, or (as I do) Marc-André Hamelin.  All in all, this disc is a real winner; perhaps the best in the set.

P.S. Sul America could have been the theme for the 2010 World Cup, until the unfortunate loss of Brazil to the Netherlands in this morning's game (still, Argentina, Uruguay, & Paraguay are left in the remaining 7).

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