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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Suite Floral (1917-1918) [7:47]
Ciclo Brasileiro (1936) [21:34]
Brinquedo de Roda (1912) [11:41]
Danças Características Africanas (1915) [11:32]
Tristorosa (1910) [4:51]
Chόros No. 1 “Tνpico" (1920) [4:59]
Chόros No. 2 (ca 1920) [2:45]
Chόros No. 5 “Alma Brasileira”(1925)

Sonia Rubinsky, piano
Recorded in Grace Church on the Hill, Toronto, Canada, 19-23 September 2000 DDD
Piano Music, Volume 3
NAXOS 8.555286 [70:05]


Heitor Villa-Lobos was a nationalist composer, not in the nineteenth century sense of the word (political patriotism), but in the early twentieth century sense (preservation of cultural heritage). In 1905, Villa-Lobos began a series of travels around Brazil to collect ideas from the folk music of the regions. Like his colleagues in Europe (Kodály, Bartók and Stravinsky, for example) his music began to reflect his discoveries, although it is sometimes difficult to isolate trends in his music, due to the sheer volume of his output.

The music in this installment comes from the first two decades of the twentieth century, and runs the gamut of styles and levels of difficulty. The Suite Floral is a lovely work, and the strong influence of the French Impressionists is most evident in these relatively obscure miniatures. Critics and scholars regard the Ciclo Brasileiro to be one of the composer’s most important works for the piano. Cast in four movements, this splendid suite presents four snapshots of Brazilian life and musical style. Perhaps most memorable is the opening movement Plantio do Cabolco, which through its ostinato perpetuo in the right hand depicts a peasant farmer casting seeds about his field. In one of the first of many works that was to focus on childhood for its subject matter, the charming Brinquedo de Roda (Children’s round games) are based on melodies from play-songs for children. These works were very likely composed as teaching pieces.

The Danças Características Africanas from 1915 were first heard in the 1922 "Week of Modern Art," and came under a considerable critical attack. They are based on Caripuna Indian songs, and each piece represents a different stage of life. Villa-Lobos’ series of fourteen Chόros written for various instrumental combinations all of which reflect a different aspect of Brazilian musical styles are perhaps some of his best-known and significant works. Only number five from the works recorded here was originally for piano, but they are all compelling in these arrangements.

What first must be said is that this is very attractive and fresh music, varied in style and rich in melodic content and rhythmic interest. Although the influence of other composers is often evident, particularly Debussy in the Suite Floral and Chopin in other places, this is work that was obviously generated in a musical mind of vast capacity.

Sonia Rubinsky is a pianist with a completely solid technique, and a keen sense of expression, grace, humor and drama. One simply has to stop and marvel that Naxos continues to find exemplary artist after exemplary artist. There are many technical demands made of the pianist in this music, and regardless of the work, be it the simple children’s pieces Brinquedo de Roda to the formidable virtuosity of the Ciclo Brasileiro, whose opening movement ostinato must be a wrist killer, Ms. Rubinsky meets every demand with ease and panache.

Without fail, this disc meets one of the crucial demands of a series: it makes one want to go immediately to seek out the other volumes. With excellent notes by James Melo, and with some wonderfully atmospheric sonic qualities, this disc is a winner on all fronts. Yet more repertoire to explore, yet another worthy addition to the catalogue from Naxos. Bravo!

Kevin Sutton

see review of Volume 2



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