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.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Fruits of a valuable partnership


Villa-Lobos was no piano virtuoso himself, but he composed a great deal of very high quality music for piano solo, and a few special pieces for piano and orchestra. As a composer he worked closely with fine pianists, most of whom, and I'm not sure of the reason, were women. First of all his first wife Lucília Guimarães, and then great artists such as Guiomar Novaes, Antonietta Rudge, Magda Taglioferro, Anna Stella Schic, and Ellen Ballon. An important member of that group was the Polish-born Felicja Blumental, who moved to Brazil in 1938 and subsequently became a Brazilian citizen, and a close friend and colleague of Villa-Lobos and his second wife Mindinha. Brana Records has done fine work in keeping Blumental's recorded legacy before the public, and this disc entitled Villa-Lobos Live! includes historically and artistically important music.

Villa-Lobos wrote his 5th Piano Concerto for Blumental in 1955. There's a great picture in the liner notes of the pianist pointing to a large London Philharmonic Orchestra poster for the World Premier of the work on May 8th, where the composer himself conducted. The recording on this disc is from later that same month at the Musikverein in Vienna, where Blumental and Villa-Lobos again presented their new work, this time with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The following month (June 8) the two recorded the Concerto in Paris for French EMI with the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise. This is included in the indispensible set Villa-Lobos par lui-meme, and it's by quite a measure a better performance of the Concerto than the one from Vienna.  Either the Viennese players aren't up to the standard of the French musicians, or, more likely, Villa-Lobos had more time to rehearse in Paris.  Blumental is superb in both the Vienna and Paris recordings.

The Fifth is probably the best of the five numbered Piano Concertos, but it's still not top-drawer Villa-Lobos. He did write two superb piano concertos earlier in his career, in all but name: the huge Choros no. 11 of 1928, and the great Bachianas Brasileiras no. 3 from 1934. This performance of BB#3 is with the Filarmonica Triestina under Luigi Toffolo. There's no information on the disc concerning the date of the performance, though it sounds rather like it might be from the late 1950s. The orchestral contribution is fine, but Blumental herself is outstanding. Listening to this a few times this week certainly reinforced for me that BB#3 is one of the most under-rated and under-performed of Villa's works. The CD is filled out with a few solo pieces from a concert in London on November 15, 1949, including two by Villa-Lobos. The Dance of the White Indian from the Ciclo Brasileiro is the most important piece, and it's exceptionally well played here. Blumental is tuned in to Villa-Lobos's frequency; every phrase seems exactly right.

Here is Villa-Lobos congratulating Blumental after one of her performances, perhaps in London or Vienna. This is from the Instituto Piano Brasileiro website, originally from the collection of Annette Celine (Blumental's daughter).

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