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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Piano Music - Volume 7
Amazonas (Ballado Indígena Brasileiro) (Brazilian Indian ballet) (1917, 1932) [14:22]
Prelúdios para Guitarra (Guitar preludes) (1940) (transcr. José Vieira Brandaõ) [22:14]
Lembranças do Sertaõ (Memories of Sertaõ) : Bachianas Brasileiras No.2 – Dansa (1930) [5:27]
Valsa Scherzo (Waltz-scherzo) (1907) [7:13]
Bailado Infernal (Infernal ballet) (1920) [1:57]
Feijoada Sem Perigo ... (Bean-stew without danger) (1955)* [0:59]
Histórias da Carochinha (Stories from Carochinha) (1919) [6:27]
Cançoes de Cordialidade  (Songs of cordiality)* [3:18]
Cortejo Nupcial (Wedding procession) (1949)* [4:33]
Valsa Lenta (Slow waltz) (1911)* [2:40]
Sonia Rubinsky (piano)
* World première recordings.
Rec. at L’Église Évangélique Saint-Michel, Paris, 21st and 22nd February, 2007.  DDD.
NAXOS 8.570503 [69:11]
Experience Classicsonline

This is Volume 7 in Naxos’s well-received series of Villa-Lobos’s piano music played by the composer’s fellow Brazilian, Sonia Rubinsky.  There’s also a parallel Naxos series of his string quartets.  The music here may not be as well known as that on earlier volumes – it’s probably best to start, not here but with the first volume, 8.554489, which contains Prole do Bebê (The Child’s Doll) Book 1. 
The composer’s own 1932 transcription of Amazonas, subtitled ‘Brazilian Indian ballet’, is more attractive in its original 1917 orchestral guise and some the Prelúdios sit less well on the piano than on the guitar for which they were written.  Together, these constitute about half of the CD, but if you forget the originals, all the music is attractive; the performances are first-rate and the recording a good deal more than adequate.
I couldn’t put it better than my colleague Glyn Pursglove in his summing up of Volume 5:

It would be wrong to make excessive claims for the importance of this music – but it is a treasure house of minor pleasures and also of interest for the light it throws on some of Villa-Lobos’ more ‘serious’ compositions.

GPu’s review also contains useful links to reviews of three earlier volumes in the series.
Nor can I improve on Paul Shoemaker’s judgement that Rubinsky ‘has the perfect touch and style for Villa Lobos’ (review of Volume 4 on 8.555717).
The colourful ballet Amazonas really needs to be heard in its original orchestral form.  The blurb on the back of the CD refers to the ‘multilayered’ nature of Villia-Lobos’s music, an epithet which applies more to his orchestral pieces, but Rubinsky makes as good and colourful a case for the piano version of Amazonas as I can imagine.  Inevitably, the sound of the piano makes the music seem closer to the European tradition and less original, but it still emerges as a ground-breaking work – as important in its own way as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring had been four years earlier.
I’ve already indicated that the transcriptions of the guitar pieces on tracks 2-6 don’t efface memories of the guitar originals, especially as performed by John Williams on Sony SBK62425 or SBK46347 (both at budget price, with different couplings).  Nevertheless, Rubinsky’s performances of them are persuasive; if you don’t know the originals, you’ll probably be more than happy.
Lembranças is also a transcription, this time from part of Bachianas Brasileiras No.2.  Perhaps because this is not one of the Bachianas that I know well, I was more impressed by the music, which seems well suited to the piano.
The short pieces, some of them recorded here for the first time are hardly vital listening – I’m not sure that I concur with the note which describes the oddly-named Feijoada sem perigo as a ‘condensed gem’, though the adjective is apposite enough for a piece of less than a minute’s duration – but they add to the value of this CD, especially when they are as well played as they are here.
The notes, by James Melo, are informative, though not all the Portuguese titles are translated – I’ve added translations in the headnote.
With the sole proviso that you may find Villa-Lobos’s chamber music more varied and attractive than his piano works – have a look at Jonathan Woolf’s review of 8.557765 – and that one of the earlier piano volumes may be a better starting point than this, the Naxos series of recordings of his piano music is rapidly assuming an authoritative status.
Brian Wilson


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