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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Danças Caracteristicas Africanas, W 085 (1914) [11:26]
Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4, W 264 (1930/36) [17:45]
Ciclo Brasileiro, W 374 (1936) [12:10]
Chôro típico no.1, W161 (1920/29) [4:45]
Carnaval das Crianças Brasileiras, W157 (1919/20) [17:23]
Cirandas, W 220 (1926) [4:00]
Flavio Varani (piano)
rec. 2017, Conservatoire de Musique et de Danse de Châtenay-Malabry, France

The Brazilian pianist Flavio Varani is no stranger to the piano music of Heitor Villa-Lobos. His teacher was fellow compatriote Magda Tagliaferro, who herself premiered many of the composer's new works. Varani previously recorded a disc of Villa-Lobos piano music on the obscure Paulinas COMEP label, which was designated "Outstanding Classical Recording of 1999" by the Detroit Music Foundation.

He opens with the three Danças Características Africanas from 1915. The composer gained inspiration from the Caripunas Indians of Mato Grosso, a race of mixed-blood with an intermingling of African. The dances are energetic, complex in their cross rhythms and dogged in their primitive ritualistic character. Each represents one of the three ages of African humanity: gold, bronze and crystal.

Bachianas Brasileiras are a series of nine suites for various instrumental and vocal combinations. Each is a fusion of Bachian polyphony and Brazilian folklore. No. 4 is for solo piano, and was later arranged for orchestra. Perhaps it's the opening Preludio which sounds the most Bachian. Coral, which follows, paints grim severity. The Aria’s solemn opening surrenders to lighter components in the central section, with the composer spicing things up with rhythmic insistence in the final Danca.

Villa-Lobos’ fascination with childhood is manifest in the eight short pieces which make up his Carnaval das Crianças (Children’s Carnival). They're tuneful, captivating and have an inborn unsullied charm and simplicity. Whether it be the impish capers of "Mischievousness of the Masked Darling," or the romping, carefree glee of "The Revelry of a Group of Children", these imaginatively wrought gems never fail to appeal.

The Ciclo Brasileiro (Brazilian Cycle) consists of four pieces: Plantio do Caboclo (Pioneer's Song), Impressões seresteiras (Impressions of the Minstrels), Festa no sertão (Festival in the Sagebrush), and Dança do índio branco (Dance of the White Indian). Here we have nos. 2 and 3. No. 2 is the most popular. A sombre melancholy pervades the virtuosic piano writing à la Rachmaninoff. No. 3 is a flamboyant toccata.

Chôros no.1 Tipico is a work for guitar, composed in 1920. If you’re a fan of Joplin rags you'll warm to this piano arrangement by Odmar Amaral Gurgel. Varani’s suave rubato makes this a delightful morsel. The composer wrote 16 Cirandas for piano, which were round dances for children in Brazil. Varani plays no. 8 "Vamos atraz da sérra calunga" (Let's go to the mountain, Calunga). In addition to featuring catchy rhythms, there's a jazzy section which depicts the elation of the sightseers.

All told, this is a desirable disc, offering much to savour in the music’s spicy and exotic lyricism and the ear-catching rhythms.

Stephen Greenbank

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