Archipelago of Light
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Carnaval das crianças (Children’s Carnival) (1920) [14:17]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Sonata No.1, Op.22 (1952) [13:48]
Almeida PRADO (1943-2010)
Ilhas (Islands) (1973) [16:41]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Tango Suite (arr. Kyoko Yamamoto) (1985) [17:00]
Tali Morgulis (piano)
rec. Moores Opera House, University of Houston, Texas, 2013
DELOS DE3435 [62:05]
Tali Morgulis is a young Israeli-American pianist, currently an Associate Professor of piano at the University of Houston. For her second solo album she chose a selection of Latin American composers. Some of the music left me cold, but this was never the fault of her performance, which was technically and artistically first-rate.
Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote a lot of music. Literally, a lot. It is a of very good quality, but I don’t find tht much of it really stands out: you hear it, you enjoy it, you forget it. Such is his Children’s Carnival suite, a set of characteristic pieces depicting different scenes from the Brazilian Carnival as seen through the eyes of a child. Though you may not find there the sincerity of Schumann’s Kinderszenen, the magic of Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye, or the wit of Debussy’s Children’s Corner; still, the images are alive, relatively diverse, and show the real love the composer must have had for children. There is certain impressionistic feeling, like Ravel without the tunes. The restless, energetic noise of the great Carnival is always in the background, and the overwhelmed child’s eye grabs into focus one part of the mosaic after another, selecting the images that are closer to the child’s world. The music is based mostly on rhythm; the air is filled with golden bells. Tali Morgulis gives an excellent, lively presentation, with the right weight given to each note, with lightness and dexterity, and her intonations are very natural. It certainly makes me want to hear her Ravel and Debussy. The last piece in the set, The Gaiety of a Children’s Band, requires a second pianist, and Morgulis is joined by Sun Jung Lee for an exuberant tour de force. This work left me unimpressed at first, but the pianist made me like it more and more with each listening.
The work I loved the most on this disk was Ginastera’s First Sonata. Ginastera is always enigmatic, always different. The first movement combines the raw aggressiveness of Bartok and Prokofiev with a humane plaintiveness. It is dark and beautiful. There is barbaric violence, yet it is not soulless, rather it is beautiful and powerful. In the second movement, little demons are flying in the night, circling and shrieking – a mesmerizing picture. These are the mischievous, treacherous pixies with sharp claws and teeth. The Adagio is mystical, with a cold silver sheen, and echoes in the still air. Ghosts and memories appear and dissolve in the shades. The black ostinato of the finale again gestures towards Bartok, in the abandon of a wild dance. Overall, the sonata is starkl and modern yet highly musical and appealing. Tali Morgulis’ playing is excellent. Her quiet pages enthrall, her loud ones don’t bang; she makes every note sound necessary, but we don’t hear the notes, we hear the music. So many modern compositions are music only to their creators, without soul, without distinction, mechanical and predictable. This sonata shows how good modern music can be; if it awakens your interest in Ginastera, that will be a good thing.
Almeida Prado’s suite Islands comes with plenty of promise. Just read through those colorful titles! Unfortunately, the titles seem to have more substance than the music, which is a sequence of sound effects, some of them indeed quite visual, but none of them really novel. Some moments have Messiaen’s colorful beauty, but it rarely goes beyond the span of moments, and I don’t see Messiaen’s magic and mystery, which leaves you with a deep impression after the music ends. I must say that Tali Morgulis makes as much as possible of this music, and then some more. She is attentive, resourceful, careful and powerful. Even though the set as a whole does not leave a lasting impression, in her hands it is enthralling while you listen to it, and the sound effects really work. The acoustic preserves the ambient sonority; the clear, spacious recording gives volume and depth.
Piazzola’s Tango Suite was written for the two guitars of the Assad brothers. Here we hear a transcription by Kyoko Yamamoto, which is very natural, beautiful and powerful. The guitar version sounds unusual and unexpected – in the piano version the music holds fewer surprises, maybe because we are more used to Piazzolla on the piano. Again, Tali Morgulis shows her mastery of the idiom. The syncopated swaying of the first part (Diciso) is captivating in its angular momentum. The intonations are alive, there is mystery, grotesquery and sadness. It is like a photo in black and white: it rains in Buenos Aires, and the wet pavement glistens under the streetlights. Morgulis plays without exaltation or extra pressure, and the effect of the music is stronger this way. The second part seems to grow out of a Liszt Liebestraum: this is one of Piazzolla’s nocturnal love songs, tender and melancholic. It inevitably has some elements of schmaltz, but it is heartfelt and natural, as in Adiós Nonino. Morgulis’ reading is simple and tender. The finale is a skillfully prepared concoction of passion, violence, regret and determination. Morgulis builds this complex structure with an unfaltering pace. The entire suite in her hands sounds like a cohesive tripartite sonata, with a unified arc of development. Even the standard Piazzolla mannerisms here appear beautiful and fresh.
It is easier to get noticed if you perform beloved, famous works, for their success will rub off on you, and the good feeling that the listener gets from great familiar music will partially be credited to the performer. A fairer, uncompromised appraisal of the performer is possible in less familiar works. Tali Morgulis exhibits excellent pianism and musicianship in all the different works on this colorful album. The recording quality is also excellent, spacious and clear. I will definitely look out for more recordings by this talented musician.
Carnaval das crianças (Children’s Carnival):
The Little Pierrot’s Pony [1:15]
The Little Devil’s Whip [1:40]
Pierrette’s Rus [1:52]
The Little Domino’s Jingle Bells [1:07]
The Little Ragpicker’s Adventures [1:13]
The Coquette’s Mischievousness [1:25]
The Fife of a Precocious Daydreamer [2:37]
The Gaiety of a Children’s Band [3:08] – with Sun Jung Lee, piano
Alberto Evaristo GINASTERA
Sonata No.1, Op.22:
Allegro marcato [4:02]
Presto misterioso [2:30]
Adagio molto appassionato [4:32]
Ruvido ed ostinato [2:44]
José Antônio Rezende de Almeida PRADO
The island of nine volcanoes [3:04]
Spitting fire, the blood of the earth, explosions of incandescent rhythms, a strange liturgy of violence, a wild song between lava and sea.
A stony island [1:50]
A barren stillness, strange animals run over the crevices. No vegetation to afford beauty, occasional bushes and an unrelenting heat.
The island of ice [1:24]
Icebergs sailing on the waves like a white crystal ship, with untouched majesty, impersonal, immense and solitary.
A green-blue island [1:55]
Lost in a sea of intensive blue, coconut palm trees with thick foliage, birds, butterflies, the gentle song of the wind.
A coral island [3:16]
A red collar, gripped by the redness of everything. Luminous fish in the coral branches. Magical fullness.
Island of flowers [1:31]
Possible fantasy… orchids, agapantos, magnolias, jasmine… ruins of immense pyramids. Magic circles.
Islands of happiness [1:57]
Toucans, song-thrushes, canaries, large blue butterflies which fly around in wonderful circles.
Astor Pantaléon PIAZZOLLA
Tango No.1: Diciso [5:22]
Tango No.2: Andante rubato, melancolico [4:45]
Tango No.3: Allegro [6:53]