Thursday, August 29, 2019

Sinfonietta no. 1 from Porto Alegre

Watch Simone Menezes conduct the Orquestra Sinfônica de Porto Alegre (OSPA) in a portion of Villa-Lobos's engaging Sinfonietta no. 1, written "in memory of Mozart".

Mozart isn't a composer one normally thinks of in connection with Villa-Lobos, and indeed, this sounds unlike anything else Villa wrote. But in the end nearly everything is grist for Villa-Lobos's musical mill, and the results are certainly worth his tarrying on this particular neo-classical by-way. The Sinfonietta no. 1 has become the musical calling card of Simone Menezes, whose career is certainly heating up. I hope that this piece will always be in her repertoire even when she tackles the big bruisers of orchestral music; charm always has its place!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Villa-Lobos by Jean Manzon

I've seen this photo on the web before, though usually in a cropped version, but I never knew who the photographer was. It turns out it's by the French photo-journalist Jean Manzon. He began working in Paris before WWII, for Paris Soir and Paris Match, but moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1940. The Villa-Lobos portrait looks like it might be from the mid-1950s.

The composition of this picture reminds me a bit of this 1961 still-life by the great Brazilian photographer Otto Stupakoff, which was used on the cover of a recent Naxos Villa-Lobos Symphonies disc.

But back to Jean Manzon. Here's his very fine portrait of another great Brazilian, the painter Candido Portinari.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

A strong, atmospheric, Villa-Lobos program

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Lenda do Caboclo, Próle do bébê No. 2 (excerpts), Choros No. 5, Bachianas brasileiras No. 4, Valsa da dor, Ciclo brasileiro (excerpts), Poema singelo

It's great to see a new Villa-Lobos disc; there's been a significant drop-off in recording activity in the years leading up to 2019, the 60th anniversary of the Maestro's death. Villa's piano repertoire is a major strength of his catalogue, reflecting both his modernist and nationalist tendencies. Though no virtuoso pianist himself, the composer was very close to some of the greatest pianists in Brazil and Europe: Rubinstein, Blumenthal, and Novaes, among many others. And we have a wide range of superb recordings available, from pianists like Nelson Freire, Marc-André Hamelin, Sonia Rubinsky and Marcelo Bratke. This is a well-chosen program from the Washington D.C. based Jason Solounias, though I would have preferred that he include the entire Ciclo brasileiro (the great Dance of the White Indian is missing). Many single-disc piano programs include Choros no. 5, Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4, and the Valsa da dor, but it's good to see some pieces from the 2nd Book of the marvellous Próle do bébê, which isn't as well known as the 1st.

I was quite impressed with the playing throughout; the tricky rhythms are solid, and there's a real sense of atmosphere that goes with Villa-Lobos's various landscapes: for example, the scrubland of Brazil's north-east in the Festa no sertão from the Ciclo brasileiro, and the Canto do sertão from BB#4. In the latter movement, very few pianists (or conductors in the orchestral version) play the insistent note of the Araponga percussively enough for my taste - they should listen to the call of the bird itself. Hit those B-flats harder! This performance of the lovely Valsa da dor is full of grace and style; Solounias plays the piece with sentiment but without sentimentality.

I enjoyed the liner notes, which include a fascinating conversation between Solounias and pianist Jose Ramos Santana, though there were a few points I disagreed with. I won't bore you with those here. Okay, maybe just one! Ramos Santana posits that "The older [Villa-Lobos] got, the music becomes more dense and complex." Though there's obviously no simple trajectory, I would think that in terms of complexity Villa's piano music peaked early, with Rudepoema and Próle do bébê (both of which were published in 1921). When the composer returned from Brazil and undertook his folkloric research and educational responsibilities, and a more nationalistic tone, his music becomes more popular and accessible (and easier to play!) This process played out in the 1930s, and you can hear it here in the Bachianas and the Valsa da dor.

This is a very promising beginning, and I look forward to future albums from Jason Solounias. Any repertoire would be great, but I would suggest Rudepoema, one of the greatest 20th century works for the piano. And, oh yes!, The Dance of the White Indian.

This album will be released on September 6, 2019

This review is also posted at Music for Several Instruments.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Villa's Hollywood adventure

I've posted and tweeted many times about Heitor Villa-Lobos's Hollywood adventure in the late 1950s. He was hired to write the score for MGM's 1959 film Green Mansions, directed by Mel Ferrer, and based on William Henry Hudson's novel. There are a number of great photographs of the composer and Mindinha hanging out with the stars on the set; some of them at least are by the great photographer Bob Willoughby. Here's one I haven't seen before:

Behind the camera is the great cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg; next to him are the stars of the film, Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins. Villa-Lobos tells Mel Ferrer a joke; I expect it's one of his tall tales from his early years wandering in the Amazon forest. Looks like the photographer (Willoughby?) cut off Mindinha at the far right of the picture.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Villa-Lobos in today's O Estado de São Paulo

From today's O Estado de São Paulo (August 4, 2019), "Villa-Lobos Pelo Avesso" ("Villa-Lobos Inside Out").

Besides two favourite pictures of the composer with the stars of MGM's 1958 film Green Mansions, Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins, there are two recent books referenced in the article:

and Villa-Lobos um compêndio: novos desafios interpretativos, 2017, edited by Paulo de Tarso Salles and Norton Dudeque

Thanks to Luciene Gelmini for the head's-up on this!