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Seresta: Music from South America
José BRAGATO (b.1915)

Milontán (1983) [5:39]
Graciela y Buenos Aires [8:38]
Astor PIAZZOLA (1921-1992)

Le Grand Tango (1982) [11:00]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)

Pampeano No.22 (1950) [9:41]
Francisco Paulo MIGNONE (1897-1986)

Modinha (1934) [4:13]
Liduino PITOMBEIRA (b.1962)

Sonata for cello and piano, Op.91 (2005) [14:14] *
Seresta No.15, Op.108, for cello, piano, voice and percussion (2006) [11:24] *
Martin Merker (cello); Anna Adamik (piano); * Marilia Vargas (voice); * Wolfgang Lindner (percussion)
rec. 10-14, April 2006, Remise Bludenz, Austria
BELLA MUSICA BM-CD 31.9228 [64:55]

In terms of international reputation the names of Ginastera and Piazzolla stand out here, but their compositions are not the only ones worth hearing in this enterprising anthology of modern chamber music from South America.

José Bragato (born in Udine in northern Italy, but resident in Argentina since 1928) has long worked in the twin fields of classical and popular music, as both composer and performer (many will have heard him as cellist on recordings by the Octeto Buenos Aires). From the mid 1940s onwards he worked as a soloist with orchestras such as the Orquestra Filarmónica de Buenos Aires and the Orquesta Estable del Teatro Colon as well as working with groups such as the Quarteto Pessina and the Buenos Aires Quartet. In the popular tradition he worked with prestigious tango orchestras such as that led by Enrique Francini and Armando Pontier, and groups led by, amongst others, Atilio Stampone and Anibal Troilo. From the mid 1950s onwards he worked extensively with Piazzolla, not least in the famous Octeto Buenos Aires, the two becoming good friends – Piazzolla’s composition ‘Bragatissimo’ being a fitting tribute to the older man. In a sense, the prominence of Bragato in the music of the tango and the nuevo tango was a kind of recapitulation of earlier events, Italian émigrés having been so important in the nineteenth century evolution of the tango. Bragato’s ‘Milontan – the title apparently a kind of portmanteau word made up of ‘milonga’ (a fast dance) and ‘tango’ – opens and closes with slow lyrical lines for cello, either side of a more up-tempo central passage, in which the piano is a little more prominent. The whole makes for tender, slightly melancholy music of attractive intimacy. ‘Graciela y Buenos Aires’ was written during the 1970s, a celebration of a beautiful lady cellist. There’s passion and delicacy in this piece, some lovely melodies and some very effective alternations in tempo and dynamics. It is played with well judged rubato by Adamik and Merker and fuses, beautifully and memorably, the two traditions in which Bragato worked for so long.

In the last few years ‘Le Grand Tango’ has been heard in so many arrangements for a variety of instrumental combinations that we may be in danger of forgetting that Piazzolla’s composition was originally written for cello and piano. It was premiered by no less a cellist than Mstislav Rostropovich, in 1990 in New Orleans. The work’s first section (Tempo di tango) is characterised by strong rhythmic accents and some attractive melodies, before a second section (Meno mosso: libe o e cantabile) of an intensely melancholic quality. It closes with a third section (Piu mosso: Giocoso), passionate and wild, the tango rhythms insistent and hard-driving. While I wouldn’t say that this present performance is the very best that I have heard – some of the rhythms could be sharper, some of the contrasts more marked – it is an interesting and thoughtful reading, even if lacking the absolute in passion.

A third Argentinean composer, Alberto Ginastera is represented by the second of his three compositions using the title ‘Pampeana’ – a word clearly intended to designate music evocative of the Pampas, the steppes of Argentina The first of the series, for violin and piano, was written in 1947; this second in 1950 and the third, for orchestra, in 1954. Ginastera wrote that whenever he crossed the pampas he felt himself "inundated by changing impressions, now joyful, now melancholy, produced by its limitless immensity and by the transformation that the countryside undergoes in the course of the day". That experience is certainly reflected in Pampeana No. 2, the work being constructed so as to alternate, in its four sections, slower and faster tempos. No specific folk materials are used, but the rhythms draw on dances such as the estilo and the malambo. Again I felt that Merker and Adamik might have made a little more of the contrasts; the faster sections, in particular, I have heard played, very effectively, a little faster. But, again, there is much to be enjoyed in their performance, which has real innerness and unflamboyant sensitivity.

The rest of the programme is devoted to works by two Brazilian composers of very different generations. The earliest born of the composers on this disc, Francisco Mignone was the son of Italian emigrants and studied at the San Paolo Conservatory and then in Milan. He later taught at the Escola Nacional de Música in Rio de Janeiro. He composed works in many genres – operas, orchestral pieces (there is a selection of these on BIS CD 1420, played by the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by John Neschling: see review), ballet music, songs, keyboard music, and chamber music. This short piece, ‘Modinha’, gets its title from the Portuguese word for song or ballad, and is as lyrical as that might lead one to expect. It is perhaps best described as a salon piece – but a rather good one. Pianist and cellist work very well together here, and Merker plays with expressive grace. This is a piece which would merit a place in any recital of cello ‘miniatures’.

The youngest composer on the disc, and the second Brazilian, is Liduiono Pitombeira. According to his website, Pitombeira studied composition at the Louisiana State university, where he now teaches. His works have been performed, inter alia, by the London Sinfonietta, the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet and by the Orquestra de Câmara Eleazar de Carvalho back in his native Brazil. The three movements of his interesting cello sonata carry the titles ‘Mente’ – ‘Alma’ – ‘Corpo’, (Mind – Soul – Body). The first movement, fittingly, is more ‘intellectual’ in design, employing some of the devices of dodecaphonic music, for example. The second has a dreamy, tranquil quality; it has, apparently no marked rhythm, so that, as Martin Merker says in his booklet notes, the performers are "practically allowed the liberty of improvisation". The final movement is grounded in Brazilian music, in rhythms and genres such as bendito, baião and valsinha de esquina; it also adds to piano and cello the wordless sound of soprano Marilia Vargas (herself Brazilian) and percussionist Wolfgang Lindner, playing the caxixi (a kind of closed basket filled, in this case, with mussels). The whole is a fine, fascinating, thought-provoking piece. I was delighted to make its acquaintance.

The programme closes with the four movements of Pitombeira’s Seresta (Serenade) No. 15. Each of the movements is based on a different musical tradition of north east Brazil. The first returns us to the bendito (a popular form of Christian song); the second employs the xaxado, a dance of the region; the third is a modinha, a love song based on Portuguese traditions; the final movement is a maracatu, a dance of African origins, often used in Brazilian parades. Pitombeira draws on these materials with sophistication and finesse, but never loses touch with the roots of his material. If I say that this is music that an heir of Villa-Lobos might have written, I don’t mean to suggest that Pitombeira’s work is derivative, but to help to ‘locate’ it for listeners and also to praise Pitombeira by suggesting that his work has something of the imaginative richness and technical accomplishment of that great Brazilian master.

In its mixture of the relatively familiar and the little-known, this CD offers a fascinating conspectus of what is, I suppose, a rather specialised area of modern chamber music. But it is music that deserves to be better known than much of it is and, for me at least, Liduiono Pitombeira is a discovery of real interest and value. Maybe Naxos could sign him up for a CD in their American Classics series.

Glyn Pursglove


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