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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Orchestral music of a major Brazilian composer

César Guerra-Peixe was born and died about 30 years after Heitor Villa-Lobos, and though he initially took a completely different tack, in the end he came to much the same musical place: a mix of folkloric and erudite strains, of indigenous Brazilian, African and European traditions. Like Villa, his mix of European avant garde and popular music sounds especially Brazilian. This character is brilliantly illustrated by the wonderful painting on the album cover: J. Borges's Forró Sertanejo, which shows a colourful, multi-ethnic mix of traditions of dance and instrumental music.

In the 1920s Villa-Lobos brought Brazilian music into the modernist world, but he later rejected serialism, which came to Brazil with Hans-Joachim Koellreutter, a student of Paul Hindemith and a refugee from Naziism. Guerra-Peixe studied with Koellreutter, and was a member of the "Musica Viva" group that promoted atonality. As with Villa-Lobos, the folkloric strain in Guerra-Peixe's music runs deep. But the progressive European strain - modernism for Villa, serialism for Guerra-Peixe - is never completely submerged. Both composers continue to blend both in their later music.

The two Symphonic Suites recorded here in this new release in the essential "Music of Brazil" series are both from 1955. The Symphonic Suite No. 1 ‘Paulista’ begins with an insistent phrase reminiscent of the beginning of Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1, from 1930. The work is full of dance rhythms gathered from folk tunes of São Paulo and the surrounding countryside. Guerra-Peixe has put together an appealing mix of mainly tonal dance tunes with the odd atonal passage for spice. The 2nd movement, Jongo, is an Afro-Brazilian dance that often reminds one of the music from the following decade written by Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass. The remarkable fourth movement, Tambu, is a moving liturgical procession that contrasts the brass and drums with intersessions from the strings. I was reminded of the Vorspeil: Concert of Angels from Mathis der Maler, written in 1932 by Guerra-Peixe's teacher's teacher Paul Hindemith.

By the way, in 1954, the year before Guerra-Peixe's first Symphonic Suite, Villa-Lobos had written his own symphonic tribute to São Paulo: his massive 10th Symphony, "Amerindia", for the 400th anniversary of the city's founding. However, I'm thinking that any similarities between the two works are more likely to come from a common source: Villa's own Bachianas Brasileiras suites from the 1930s and 40s. These are the source for so much of Brazil's music - both classical and popular - from then until today.

Guerra-Peixe's 2nd Symphonic Suite, "Pernambucana", uses the music of his second home, Recife and the surrounding area of Pernambuco. The music encapsulates the Carnaval de Pernambuco, with the dances of the North-East colourfully presented by a large orchestra with a large percussion component. The folkloric content has a sophisticated envelope: besides the large-scale Choros of Villa-Lobos, especially no. 6, completed in 1942, I hear echoes of Gershwin and Aaron Copland, as well as a host of Hollywood film composers. Guerra-Peixe was himself an active film-scorer; he has 19 composer credits at IMDb. Guerra-Peixe was much more open to jazz influences than Villa-Lobos ever was; the 2nd Symphonic Suite often has the sound of the American big band, and this music anticipates the Henry Mancini's music of the 60s.

The third work on the program is Roda de amigos, from 1979. The Roda is a group of musicians playing together in a circle; the amigos in this case are Guerra-Peixe's own friends. The composer creates pictures of each friend playing a woodwind instrument featured in the four movements: grumpy bassoon, stubborn clarinet, melancholy oboe and mischievous flute. So the work is a clever combination of Peter and the Wolf and the Enigma Variations.

These are all works designed for a large orchestra of virtuoso soloists and a conductor who can keep many plates spinning, mastering complex rhythms along the way. Neil Thomson manages everything with aplomb, and the Goias Philharmonic Orchestra is very much up to the task here. This is the tenth release in the Naxos Music of Brazil series, and it's providing yet another example of the many fine composers who have been in the Villa-Lobos shadow for too long.

No comments:

Post a Comment