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.