Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"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, January 31, 2018

Delicacy and intricacy in a vast expanse

Almeida Prado: Cartas Celestes 9, 10, 12 and 14

As Brazilian pianist Aleyson Scopel continues his traversal of Almeida Prado's huge work for piano, Cartas Celestes, we can begin to see the delicacy of its parts and the intricacy of the relationships within a vast expanse. Stars look to us like points of white light, but this is a multi-coloured canvas; we should think of these star charts as being more like NASA's amazing Hubble Space Telescope photographs than the (admittedly gorgeous) cover art by Tony Price featured on this disc.

Globular Cluster Messier 79 (M79, NGC 1904)

In the first two volumes of this series I often heard the sound of Heitor Villa-Lobos's piano music, most especially the two books of Prole do Bebe, Rudepoema and As Tres Marias. Almeida Prado, of course, has a much more avant garde palette, which is natural considering his teachers included György Ligeti and Lukas Foss. The four works included here date from around the turn of the century; all but the 14th are World Premiere Recordings, and they're indeed welcome.

The Cartas Celestes no. 9 is constructed as a kind of Four Seasons. The episode entitled The summer sky as seen from Brazil includes a shout-out to Villa-Lobos's Three Maries from 1939. Each of the sections has its own atmosphere, though they all share the composer's characteristic clusters and the harmonic language he termed "transtonality". At times this music seems like it must be fiendishly difficult to play, but Scopel handles it all with aplomb, and indeed pushes back in the virtuoso passages to exploit their colour and emotional content rather than just flaunting the razzle-dazzle glitter. Almeida Prado has some fun in the 10th work, The Constellations of the Mystical Animals, and Scopel ensures that we do too, with a light touch in the presentation of this heavenly menagerie enacting scenes from the life of Christ. If these animals are mystical they're closer to St. Francis than anything more abstruse. The 11th work is more arcane, making reference to two paintings by the symbolist painter Nicholas Roerich, including this 1932 work Saint Sophia the Almighty Wisdom, in the Roerich Museum in New York. Almeida Prado doesn't let the extra-musical happenings interfere too much with his musical agenda. When I saw the Roerich connection I listened for Scriabin, but couldn't hear any. Perhaps I don't know the Russian master well enough!

The 14th work is, in my opinion, one of the strongest of the whole series so far. It uses a variety of structures from the piano literature, from a Bachian toccata to a disemboweled waltz, a kind of Darmstadt Ravel. It's witty and strange, but also a bit scary. Scopel is really moving along here, at a disc every year; I'm hoping we see the fourth volume before 2018 is done!

Volume 3 in this series will be released on February 3, 2018. Here are my reviews of Volume 2 and Volume 1.  Both of the previous discs made by Top 10 lists for 2017 and 2016.

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