Monday, February 29, 2016

Katrina Krimsky's new Villa-Lobos/Barber CD

I'm looking forward to this CD, coming April 8, 2016. The Samuel Barber Piano Sonata, written in 1949 is such a great work, and a great test of a pianist's abilities and musicianship. The two sets of Villa-Lobos Prole do Bebe bring their own challenges of virtuosity and style. I'm so pleased to see the second set included, since it's much less popular than the first. I'll review the disc as soon as it's available.

[Not sure if this is the same 2007 CD recorded in November 2007 and released by Charmed Quarks.]

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Great Villa-Lobos works you don't know: Nonetto

Everyone knows Villa-Lobos, right? Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5, or at least its Aria, sung by every soprano, and played in arrangements for everything from accordians to xylophones. The guitar music played by every single guitarist in the YouTube world, from Julian Bream to your 8-year-old nephew to the handsome new guys like Milos and Mickael Viegas. The Little Train movement from BB2, which is so well-known, though not as famous as it would have been if Walt Disney had put his animators on it during Fantasia. I'm still mad about that lost opportunity.

Then there's the next layer down: nearly all the rest of the Bachianas, which are very popular on disc and in performance. The string quartets are all awesome; it's so great that quartets around the world are following the Cuarteto Latinoamericano's lead and programming them. Choros no. 10 at The Last Night of the Proms a few years ago knocked everybody's socks off. The piano music has a big discography, though I'd love to see more in performance, from Prole do Bebe encores up to the scary Rudepoema (though only for pianists with very high self-esteem). Even the Symphonies are becoming appreciated, thanks to a great new Naxos series of recordings from Sao Paulo.

But what about unknown Villa-Lobos in the layers below? Are there great works hidden down there where only Villa-Lobos fanatics with lighted coal-miners' helmets go? Yes! I'll be your guide in a series of posts exposing the pre-Cambrian layer of great Villa-Lobos music that everyone should know, but only the Villa-Lobos illuminati appreciate.

Exhibit A: the Nonetto. This work was begun in Rio in 1923, and finished in Paris in 1924. It's subtitled "Impressão rapida de todo o Brasil" - "Rapid Impression of Brazil", and was designed to show off Villa's awesomeness as a complete package: exoticism plus leading-edge modernism. Villa-Lobos was a master of self-promotion; to the Paris musical press he described the Nonetto as "Nova forma de composicao que exprime o ambiente sonoro e os ritmos mais originais do Brasil." (A new form of composition which expresses the noise environment and the most original rhythms of Brazil). This sentence packs some audacious claims: "A new form" puts him firmly in the modernist camp; "the noise environment" implies a radical naturalism; and "the most original rhythms of Brazil" sets in motion a lifelong claim where Villa-Lobos himself is the true representative of the country of Brazil, not just musically, but somehow the soul of the country itself. Here is a very self-assured young composer!

Does Villa-Lobos deliver? If he does in any piece, it's in the Nonetto. This is a large-scale work pushing out from a chamber-music frame. There are nine players in theory: flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone (actually saxophones; the player alternates between an alto and baritone saxes), bassoon, celesta, harp, piano and percussion (which actually requires 3 people). Plus a mixed choir. It fills a large stage! Here's what it looks like on the page:

On the front page of the score, the Max Eschig editors invite interested parties to come to their offices at 48 rue du Rome in Paris to check out "les instruments de percussion et de batterie qui ne sont pas d'un usage courant dans les orchestres." It's all part of the marketing of the exotic in the arts, which was big in Paris, from Japanese painting and African sculpure to African percussion and the sounds of the Balinese gamelan. Villa-Lobos jumped head-first into the mix, beginning with his tall tales of travels in the jungle, encounters with Indians and strange animals and plants (man-eating plants!). The Nonetto, which was premiered at a famous concert in May 1924, was an important milestone in Villa's acceptance as a composer.

Here is the roll call of the batterie:

But this is a 'rapid impression' of all Brazil: there's the urban life of the choroes here as well as the jungle. Villa had brought this sound to his music in such works as the Suite populaire bresilienne of 1912, the First String Quartet of 1915, and the Choros no.1 of 1920, dedicated to Ernesto Nazareth. It would play a key role in the whole series of Choros, the bulk of which were written in the 1920s. Indeed, you could call the Nonetto an honorary Choros.

In some ways Nonetto is a dress rehearsal for Choros no. 10 of 1926, which adds a full orchestra (and an extra harp) to the chorus, piano, celesta, harp, and huge percussion complement of the earlier work. But whereas Villa-Lobos brings actual Indian motifs to bear in Choros 10, in Nonetto, there are African and Portuguese elements but no aboriginal ones. "Zango! Zizambango! Dangozangorangotango!" sings the Nonetto choir, in a made-up African language, to the beat of the Brazilian Batuque dance that originated in Cape Verde.

So what does it all sound like? Listen to this important 1954 Capitol release featuring Roger Wagner's Chorale & Concert Arts Ensemble. In a review in The Musical Quarterly, critic Richard Goldman said "The Nonetto is sub-titled 'Quick Impression of All Brazil,' a country apparently settled by Stravinsky and the random survivors of an orchestral shipwreck some time after 1920." The conductor Ricardo Rocha said "The Nonetto I call ‘a musical Guernica, but with humor…"

What do you think?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mickael Viegas CD released

The new Villa-Lobos 2 CD set by Mickael Viegas is now available on Spotify. It's also now streaming on Naxos Music Library.

Read more about this fascinating project at my post of a few weeks ago.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Villa-Lobos and Waldemar Henrique songs

Here's a new CD of Brazilian art songs from baritone Renato Mismetti and pianist Maximiliano de Brito, from Pleorama. It includes some of Villa-Lobos's best songs, and a good selection of songs by Waldemar Henrique, from the generation after Villa-Lobos. There's more information, and clips, at the Pleorama site. Love the album design!

Here's one of my favourite Villa-Lobos songs, Estrella é lua nova:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Villa-Lobos and Marian Anderson, pt. 2

On March 14, 1945, Villa-Lobos was the guest of honour at a reception at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. The guest list was impressive; here are the names David Appleby lists in his Villa-Lobos biography:
Marian Anderson, Bidu Sayao, Walter Damrosch, Arthur Rodzinski, Leopold Stokowski, Benny Goodman, Aaron Copland, Carleton Sprague Smith, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Fiorello La Guardia, Sigmund Romberg, George Szell, Joseph Szigetti, Arturo Toscanini, Ezio Pinza, Claudio Arrau, Morton Gould, Yehudi Menuhin, Eugene Ormandy, Jose Iturbi, Deems Taylor, Nelson Rockefeller, Olin Downes and Oscar Thompson.
Here's a picture of the composer with Aaron Copland and the Brazilian Consul Oscar Correia taken that day:

And here, along with Mindinha, is a friend Villa-Lobos made in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1930s, soprano Marian Anderson. I've seen this picture on the web before, but didn't know when it was taken. Judging from Villa's outfit, we have the answer.

Back in 2009 I posted about Villa's relationship with Anderson. The two had become close back in Brazil and they kept up a correspondence, and would run into each other over the years as international musicians tend to do. I wish that Anderson had recorded some Villa-Lobos songs, especially the Poema da Itabira, which was dedicated to her.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Philip Glass and Villa-Lobos


The 1993 album Águas da Amazônia brought together the Brazilian instrumental group Uakti and composer Philip Glass. The music was originally written by Glass for the Grupo Corpo ballet group of Belo Horizonte. In the first piece on the album, entitled Tiquiê River, Glass borrows from, or pays homage to, Villa-Lobos. That seems at first a natural connection, since Villa-Lobos has always been connected with the Amazon. However, the piece in question is Villa's desert-themed 2nd movement from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4, Coral (Canto do sertão). The sertão is the dry region of North-Eastern Brazil.

By the way, I see that Uakti and Philip Glass will be together on stage for the first time, performing Águas da Amazônia in May 2016 at the 92nd Street Y in New York. More information here.

This isn't the only connection between Glass and Villa-Lobos. Glass links his 2nd Symphony, written at about the same time, to the polytonal music of the 1930s and 40s, specifically referring, in his liner notes to the Nonesuch recording (pictured below), to Honegger, Milhaud and Villa-Lobos.

Here's the 1st movement of that very interesting symphony, played by the Bournemouth Symphony under Marin Alsop, from a 2004 Naxos album: