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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Great piano music from Villa-Lobos

I posted this review of the 7th volume of Sonia Rubinsky's great cycle of the complete piano music of Villa-Lobos to The Villa-Lobos Magazine back in 2010. Here it is again, with a few updates.

http://amzn.to/1NI2wqq
The seventh volume in the series is my favourite, since it includes so many pieces I haven't heard before.  In 1932 Villa-Lobos made a piano version of his early orchestral score Amazonas, which was first published in 1917.  Like in the great Rudepoema of the early 1920s (which Villa-Lobos orchestrated in the same year, 1932, as the Amazonas reduction), there's a lot happening for only 10 fingers and 88 keys to manage at once.  It's interesting that Prof. Tarasti should say, about the Rudepoema orchestration: "... one can only be amazed at how 'orchestral' the piano work already is."  And, though you can't always un-scramble an egg, I find the piano version of the great Stravinsky-infused orchestral version of Amazonas quite pianistic.  I wonder how it was that Villa-Lobos was reducing and orchestrating these two big scores at the same time.  Was it a case of the always practical composer coincidentally needing different versions of these scores, or did he just decide one day to set himself these interestingly symmetrical tasks?

The transcriptions for piano of the Guitar Preludes by José Vieira Brandão provide another fascinating listening experience, and one which I found even more musically satisfying.  These five pieces are among the greatest in the guitar literature, and are the first Villa-Lobos works I heard (and, naturally, fell in love with).  They fit very well in their new piano guise, which is a tribute both to Brandão's re-thinking of the music for the piano, and Rubinsky's phrasing on the keyboard.  I thought the third Prelude, inspired by Bach, worked especially well on the piano.  James Melo, in his excellent liner notes, calls the Brandão transcriptions "true transcendental etudes for the piano."  They deserve to be taken up by more pianists, either as a group, or one at a time as a encores.  It's a good way to get this response: "I know this piece. What is it? It's by Villa-Lobos, but wait a minute! Something doesn't sound right!" [update: listening to these piano transcriptions again, I'm less positive about them. Not that they're unmusical or poorly played - perish the thought! - just that they're nowhere close to the guitar versions. This is heavenly music on six strings, and it's too far a fall in the piano version. I still agree that they should be taken up by pianists, since they're interesting in that form.]

In the 1940s Villa-Lobos transcribed the third movement of Bachianas Brasileiras #2 (not #3 - a typo in the liner notes) for piano.  Dedicated to Georgette Baptista, this version was never published (the score is in the Museu Villa-Lobos), and was first played by Cláudia Tolipan in London in 1990. It sounds a pretty slight piece on the piano.  It makes you want to hear a really good orchestra led by a really good conductor (let's say the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, conducted by Eduardo Mata).

The rest of the disc is filled with really interesting little bits, including some world premiere recordings.  I play Feliz aniversario from the Canções de Cordialidade every year on Villa-Lobos's birthday (March 5th), and Feliz Natal is always in my Christmas playlist as well.

The sound from this 2007 recording continues excellent, especially in the turbulent Amazonas.  I've read reviewers who prefer the bright sound of the later Paris recordings (6-8) to the softer sound provided by Kraft & Silver in their earlier Toronto ones (2-5).  But the whole series seems to me to place one in a realistic space, and Rubinsky does the rest!

Though you can buy the individual CDs in the set, the best way to buy this music is to get the boxed set. It's a great bargain.

http://amzn.to/1NI2EGd

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