Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Piano Trio no.1 in C minor (1911) [24:00]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (1964-70), arr. José BRAGATO (b.1915) [25:16]
Lucio BRUNO-VIDELA (b.1968)
Yumba-Verwandlung (from Piano Trio op.10) (2004) [6:47]
Villa-Lobos Trio: (Rosángela Antunes (piano); Florian Wilscher (violin); Katrin Schickedanz (cello))
rec. no details provided. DDD

Piazzolla's The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires exists in many arrangements - on MusicWeb International there have been reviews of versions for full orchestra, solo piano, violin & strings, wind quintet and string orchestra - and that's just in the last four years! This is obviously a work that lends itself well to transcription, and one of great popularity. In his notes, violinist Florian Wilscher asks the presumably rhetorical question: "for who could in this day and age imagine a music world without Piazzolla?" For those who have so far resisted the temptation to jump on any Piazzolla bandwagon, this version of The Four Seasons is a dignified place to acquiesce - a very tasteful transcription by the venerable José Bragato, who was once a cellist in Piazzolla's renowned Nuevo Tango ensembles. Bragato has made this sound like a piano trio original, with a particularly romantic cello part; the piano trio seems an ideal medium to convey this passionate, melancholic, but somehow uplifting music.

In fact, if Piazzolla himself had scored his work for this combination, rather than his preferred, but rather dubious original choice of electric-guitar-based quintet, many more would surely take him more seriously as a composer of art music. After all, he had studied under Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and there is clearly considerable technique and originality underpinning this music. Each of the four movements, linked musically in various ways, has an abundance of haunting wistfulness in the tunes and syncopated sensuality in the rhythms. The final movement, 'Winter', has an incredibly moving melody for the cello, full of aching nostalgia.

Heitor Villa-Lobos's Piano Trio in C minor is an earlier work by more than half a century, but it comes in a way from a similar place - the South-American psyche - which may be why the Villa-Lobos Trio chose this particular programme. As a Brazilian, Villa-Lobos made immense use of the traditional musics of his country, and of others, and there is little wonder that similarities of mood at least occur between his music and that of Piazzolla - at least in the latter's transcription for more orthodox forces.

On the other hand, Villa-Lobos was still a young man when he wrote the First Piano Trio - in fact, this was his first work for chamber forces, preceding the first of his 17 string quartets by four years. And the recentness of his own study and internalisation of the Western art music tradition is much in evidence - French, German and particularly Slavic influences permeate the work. In fact, there is as yet very little truly Brazilian music here! Nevertheless, the Piano Trio is a work of considerable originality, and despite a lukewarm initial reception at its première in Rio de Janeiro in 1915, it was this work in particular that started him on the long path to international recognition.

The final work on this disc is only really a taster. The Yumba-Verwandlung is the third movement of Argentinean composer Lucio Bruno-Videla's Piano Trio op.10 of 2004. According to the liner notes, this work - either the whole Trio or just the Verwandlung, it's not clear - was written for the Villa-Lobos Trio as a homage to the Argentinean composer Osvaldo Pugliese, who died in 1995. It is an adaptation of Pugliese's famous tango 'La Yumba', with a transformation ('Verwandlung') into contemporary idiom. This is an exciting piece of music, steeped in the quasi-mechanical rhythms of the original, which is likely to have the listener wondering why the rest of the work could not have been recorded - with almost 25 minutes of blank space on this disc, Oehms could surely have found room for it. Bruno-Videla has written the liner-notes about himself and, rather disconcertingly, speaks of himself in the third person ("Shortly after his graduation in 1996, he was appointed..." etc.)

The CD booklet is glossy, clean, generally well written, and has two or three unobtrusive photos in it to boot. Sound quality is very high, with an attractively neutral positioning of instrumentalists. The Villa-Lobos Trio could play this music in their sleep, but they are wide awake here, alert to all the nuances and shadings, and their expressive ensemble playing is exemplary in its technique, passion and lyricism. An excellent, if rather short, disc.


An excellent, if rather short, disc.