Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A century of great chamber music from Brazil

From September 2, 2009:


Heitor Villa-Lobos looms large in Brazil, and not just in the classical music world. In Brazilian popular music, jazz, and popular culture, and especially in this Ano Villa-Lobos (the 50th anniversary of his death), Villa-Lobos is everywhere. This makes it hard for the composers of Villa's generation, and those who followed him, to get noticed. This disc is a welcome introduction to some names that might not be well known to music lovers. Perhaps the new interest in Villa-Lobos in Brazil and around the world will be the tide that raises all boats.

The one fairly well-known work in this chronologically organized CD is Villa-Lobos's Quinteto em forma de Choros, written in 1928. It's a masterpiece, closely related to the Choros series that many (including myself) believe constitutes Villa's greatest achievement.

Luciano Gallet's Turuna for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, & Percussion is from 1926, and it's a real find. The work reflects Gallet's expertise in Brazilian folklore and popular music. It has the same fresh sound of the urban serenaders known as Choroes that permeates Villa-Lobos's music of the 1920s. The music really swings. But the Turuna shares with the Quinteto and the following work, Camargo Guarnieri's Two Songs for Flute and Voice, a sophisticated, modernist voice that relates to Villa-Lobos's strongest influences: Stravinsky, Debussy, and the many composers Villa met in Paris. You can hear in both the Gallet and Guarnieri, for example, the flute and clarinet sounds of Choros #02 of 1924. These works show that the international modernist style of Paris had found fertile ground in Brazil.

Francisco Mignone, who worked in both the nationalist and modernist styles and even flirted with serialism in the 1950s, wrote the Five Songs for Voice & Bassoon relatively late in a very long and productive career. The songs look back to the 1920s, and earlier, to the salon music of the late nineteenth century. There are few composers who write better for the bassoon - bassoonists should take up these songs in the same way they have adopted the witty Waltzes for Solo Bassoon.

Claudio Santoro's Mini Concerto Grosso is a gorgeous piece. It's a stylized work that looks back on neo-classicism in the same way that neo-classicism looked back on earlier music. It looks back to the new Brazilian style that Villa-Lobos took up in the 1930s. Santoro, like Mignone, had gone through a variety of styles (he shared a teacher, Hans Joachim Koellreutter, with Antonio Carlos Jobim, and also studied with Nadia Boulanger). Ronaldo Miranda's Variations also look back to an earlier period in Brazilian music: to a much-loved song by Anacleto de Medeiros, whose choros and schottisches from the turn of the century had a major influence on Brazilian popular music and art music alike.

Joao Guilherme Ripper was born in the year that Villa-Lobos died, and his star has risen very high in the last few years, with major triumphs in choral music and opera. Matinas, from 1996, is another strong work to close this enjoyable and illuminating programme from the very capable musicians of the Deutschen Oper Berlin.

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