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Brazilian Guitar Music
Pedro Aguiar (guitar)
rec. 2019, Ermita de Sant Blai, Mallorca, Spain
NAXOS 8.574069 [63:48]

Brazilian guitar music is, generally speaking, synonymous with exciting rhythms, catchy melodies, virtuoso playing and life-enhancing vivacity. It also has close bonds to jazz and popular music. And, dear reader, you will be treated to a profusion of those aspects on this well-engineered CD which, besides a handful of old friends, contains a plethora of wonderful pieces that hopefully will be added to your exsisting circle of friends. The technical side of the project is well catered for with Norbert Kraft in charge as producer, engineer and editor, a function he has had for Naxos’ guitar recordings since 1994, often together with his wife Bonnie Silver. Responsible for the playing is Pedro Aguiar, born in Brasilia in 1990 and winner of 15 international prizes, including the prestigious Alhambra Guitar Competition in Valencia in 2018, which was the direct reason that he was offered to record the present disc in May the following year.

Say Brazil to someone whose memory stretches back to the 1950s and 60s and she/he says Luiz Bonfá and Black Orpheus or Antônio Carlos Jobim and The Girl from Ipaanema. Neither of them is represented here but could well have been, as they were on a much earlier Naxos CD (8.550226) with guitarist Gerald Garcia, which also includes some of the same pieces and composers as here. A later offering with guitarist Graham Anthony Devine (review) covers more of this repertoire. Both those discs are recommendable and there is fairly little overlapping between the three discs. But let us concentrate on the disc under consideration.

Marco Pereira was only just born when Bonfá’s Black Orpheus music became a world hit. But he must have heard it innumerable times when he grew up in Saô Paulo and perhaps also when he moved to Paris and took his Master’s Degree at the Sorbonne, where his thesis, interestingly, was on Heitor Villa-Lobos and His Work for Guitar, some of which will appear later in this programme. I wouldn’t say that there are any direct influences from Bonfá but there is something of the slightly sorrowful atmosphere, distantly sentimental, one can find in Manhã de Carneval as is the original title of the Orpheus theme. On the other hand this is something we can find in much of the Brazilian music – and even in the Latin American music at large. O choro de Juliana, which Devine also plays, is rhythmically enticing, the tune is catchy and the technical dexterity of Pedro Aguiar is stunning – as is Devine’s too. Rhythm and virtuosity also characterises Radamés Gnattali’s Toccata em ritmo se samba. There is a slow middle section before he returns to tempo I and truly intricate rhythms. Gnattali was pianist, conductor and arranger and a prolific composer of symphonies, string quartets, instrumental works and 26 concertos, six of these for guitar. The Three Concert Studies for Guitar (1950 – 1981) of which the Toccata is No. 2, were dedicated to the legendary Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida (1917 – 1995) who was a versatile artist. Both as a composer and performer he was at home in classical music, popular repertoire and jazz. In the 1940s he was a member of Stan Kenton’s then highly successful band and was frequently featured as soloist. He and Bud Shank were pioneers in creating bossa nova, though they called it samba-jazz.

Dilermando Reis, born the year before Almeida, was himself a revered guitarist, who made a lot of recordings between 1941 and 1975, including a hundred of his own compositions, but he also played music of his guitar colleagues and of Bach. In toto he set down 20 78s and 23 LPs! Se ela preguntar (If she asks) exists as both a song and an instrumental piece. It is a slow waltz – and very beautiful.

Aníbal Augusto Sardinha belonged to the same generation (b. 1915) and was a close friend to Almeida. The latter said that Garoto (it was Sardinha’s nickname) ‘paints his country, Brazil, into a beautiful aquarelle of colours, sounds and styles. The three basic powers that make up Brazilian music – the Indigena (Indian), African and European – are thematically very evident.’ That’s an unerring description and it is evident in Jorge do Fusa as well as Enigma. The meaning of the latter title seems unclear but both pieces are a pleasure to listen to. Reis returns with the fast and rhythmical Xodó da Baiana – again with a catchy melody.

Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar (nicknamed ‘Guinga’), worked as a dentist for many years besides his musical activities. He has been an accompanist to leading singers and is also composer, singer and songwriter. He writes in many styles, combining jazz with Brazilian genres. The two pieces recorded here also exist as songs. Both Baião de Lacan (1993) and Di Menor (1999) are technical challenges and they are met with stunning virtuosity in the fingers of Pedro Aguiar.

Juan de Dios Garcia Aguilera (b. 1959) is the odd man out here. He was born in Madrid but has lived for many years in Córdoba, Spain, so his Brazilian credentials are scarce. But he composed El reloj de Teresa in 2017 as the obligatory test piece for the 2018 Alhambra International Guitar Competition in Valencia, and since Pedro Aguiar won the competition I gather he thought it appropriate to include it in this album. I suppose it is a world premiere, even though it’s not mentioned in the booklet. It is not an easy piece to come to terms with, neither for the interpreter nor for the listener. Technically of course it is challenging, but it is also structurally and harmonically a hard nut to crack. I think one needs to hear it several times, which I haven’t done so far. That Aguiar plays it impeccably is indisputable.

That Heitor Villa-Lobos is the greatest Brazilian composer is also indisputable. His fame and greatness rests on an enormous output of music in almost all genres. It encompasses more than 2000 works and the Brazilian folk music is omnipresent. His guitar music has long been very popular and he wrote for the guitar very early. His first work for solo guitar was composed in 1900 when he was 13! On the present disc we get Choros No. 1 from 1920, which is a classic that most guitarist have on their repertoire. It is played here with great elegance. The early Mazurka-Choro from 1908, when he had just turned 20, is beautiful and caresses the ears. Delicious indeed! And Chorinho from 1923 is also a gem.

Pereira’s Bate-coxa is a technical tour-de-force – and it is listener-friendly as well with distinct melodic material. Sérgio Assad and his brother Odair long ago formed a guitar duo which has long been in the top flight. But both are also soloists in their own right and Sérgio is also a highly regarded composer. Aquarelle is a suite in three movements written in 1986 for David Russell. The middle movement, Valseana, is a slow meditation, romantically dreamy – and really beautiful. The complete suite is available on the disc with Devine mentioned above.

João Pernambuco, who called himself ‘the troubadour of the poor’ had several temporary occupations but he also wrote hundreds of songs, and he also played the guitar. His best known instrumental piece is the lovely Sons de carrilhões (Sounds of Bells) which is frequently played by guitarists. César Guerra-Peixe, another composer from the same generation as Reis, Sardinha and Almeida, became known as a composer of film music. The energetic and powerful Prelúdio No. 5 obviously needs fingers of steel – which obviously Pedro Aguiar has.

This highly attractive recital is rounded off with two further gems: Reis’s Noite de lua (Moon Light), which is a nocturnal waltz, which should attract all music lovers with a sweet tooth. Consequently I immediately returned to it after I had finished my listening séance. Quite another mood was evoked by Isaías Sávio’s Batucada – a joyful piece with irresistible African rhythms. Should raise the temperature several degrees at any party!

That Pedro Aguiar’s playing also is irresistible I hope is evident from what I have already written. A must for guitar lovers and fans of Brazilian music.

Göran Forsling

Marco PEREIRA (b. 1956)
1. O choro de Juliana (1990) [3:14]
Radamés GNATTALI (1906 – 1988)
Three Concert Studies for Guitar:
2. No. 2. Toccata em ritmo de samba I (1950) [3:54]
Dilermando REIS (1916 – 1977)
3. Se ela perguntar (c. 1952) [3:15]
Aníbal Augusto SARDINHA (‘Garoto’) (1915 – 1955)
4. Jorge do Fusa (1949) (arr. Paulo Bellinati, b. 1950) [2:46]
Dilermando REIS
5. Xodó da Baiana (1954) [2:50]
Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos ESCOBAR (‘Guinga’) (b. 1950)
6. Baião de Lacan (1993) (version for guitar) [2:08]
Aníbal Augusto SARDINHA (‘Garoto’)
7. Enigma (1952) (Arr. Paulo Bellinati) [3:53]
Juan de Dios GARCÍA AGUILERA (b. 1959)
8. El reloj de Teresa (2017) [8:45]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887 – 1959)
9. Choros No. 1 (1920) [4:22]
Suite populaire brésilienne (excerpts):
10. I. Mazurka-Choro (1908) [3:37]
11. V. Chorinho (1923) [4:21]
12. Bate-coxa (1988) [3:05]
Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos ESCOBAR (‘Guinga’)
13. Di Menor (1999) (version for guitar) [2:27]
Sergio ASSAD (b. 1952)
14. Aquarelle – II. Valseana (1986) [3:15]
João PERNAMBUCO (1883 – 1947)
15. Sons de carrilhões (c. 1914) (trans. Ivan Paschoito, b. 1953) [2:24]
César GUERRA-PEIXE (1914 – 1993)
16. Prelúdio Nr. 5 (1973) [2:10]
Dilermando REIS
17. Noite de lua (1954) [3:32]
Isaías SÁVIO (1900 – 1977)
18. Batucada (1952) (ed. Ivan Paschoito and Carlos Barbosa Lima, b. 1944) [3:04]

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