The Music of Brazil - Naxos series

Started by Brian, September 19, 2022, 08:03:25 AM

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Brian

Since this series has generated lots of ongoing discussion already, I thought it would be fun to give it a thread of its own where everyone can talk about their Naxos Brazil listening adventures. It might also persuade me to listen through in a systematic way and post listening notes here.

The Music of Brazil is a Brazilian government sponsored project, from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Brazilian musicologists select works for their national importance and the scarcity of available recordings and performing editions; publishing new editions is also part of the project, along with sponsoring the Naxos albums.

The original plan was a 5-year project comprising 30 CDs, although more may be added. Note that this series does not include other Naxos projects of Brazilian music, such as the Villa-Lobos symphonies. But I see no harm in discussing those works here and will not police this thread.  ;D

A sampler collection of 6 of the 12 discs released so far is $25 on Arkivmusic.

Previous GMG discussions of Naxos' Music of Brazil:

- my notes on Guerra-Peixe Symphonic Suites, and shorter notes by Symphonic Addict and Mirror Image
- Harry's notes on Alberto Nepomuceno
- Todd's notes on Villa-Lobos' harmonica concerto
- vandermolen and kyjo in conversation about Claudio Santoro

Todd

I've listened to no other newer Naxos recordings of Villa-Lobos or other Brazilian music, but I have long owned the complete Bachianas Brasileiras conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn.  I am quite satisfied with the set as a whole, though I've not exactly done many comparisons at all.  I may bite on a second set.



Also, there's the complete piano music set from Sonia Rubinsky, which is very fine overall.  No, she's not another Freire, but who would realistically expect that?



This series may make for a perfect streaming experience, and hopefully it just kind of drags on, resulting in release after release.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

The dollar is our currency, but it's your problem - US Treasury Secretary John Connally to European Finance Ministers, 1971

Brian

First listen to this new release:



The music here all follows on from the European romantic string serenade tradition, particularly from Grieg, who had a surprising influence on Brazilian romantic composers (Alberto Nepomuceno became friends with him and wrote a piece for a party at Grieg's house).

Certainly Antonio Carlos Gomes' Sonata for Strings immediately calls for mind Grieg's Holberg Suite, along with the serenades by Robert Fuchs and Josef Suk. It gets its name, "O burrico de pau" (the little wooden donkey), from the finale's dance, which includes the barest, tiniest shreds of evocations of a donkey. There are eee-haws, but they're not on the Saint-Saëns level. The nickname is about as indicative here as Haydn's "bear."

Francisco Braga's "Madrigal-pavane" is a four-minute miniature. I guess the way that madrigals and pavanes combine is to produce a slow-stepping dance that's like a tango, but less sexy. Maybe a better comparison would be a J. Strauss Jr. polka-mazur, but even that tends to be lighter on its feet. It's not bad, just a bit prim and proper.

Nepomuceno's "Suite antique" is the work that premiered at Grieg's house in an original solo piano version. The string orchestra version here also had a prestigious debut, getting premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic. It's even more directly Holberg Suite-inspired than the Gomes piece, since it consists entirely of 1700s forms. (When was the last time you heard a work that starts with a minuet?) The "air" has so much in common with Holberg's fourth movement that I can imagine Grieg feeling embarrassment.

Then we get another Nepomuceno work, a miniature "Serenata" which has more of a personal flavor, kind of an Italian serenade quality with pizzicato strings evoking a strumming guitar. Very nice.

The big final piece is Leopoldo Miguez's "Suite à antiga," another evocation of Days Gone By, with sarabandes and gavottes and so on. But - big surprise after the rest of the CD - this one has woodwinds! It is competent, but light on melodic inspiration.

I've said some unkind things about individual pieces along the way through this disc, but in truth, it is an exceedingly pleasant listen, ideal to put on in the background while you read a book, get some light work done, or perhaps stare at the window at a beautiful country landscape (if that is a lifestyle you lead ;D ). As Todd said above, it's the kind of thing that makes streaming services so valuable. I am a sucker for romantic string serenades for all kinds. I love the Tchaikovsky, Suk, Dvorak, Grieg, Fuchs, Wiren, Elgar, Janacek's Idyll, etc. etc. This is a nice but nonessential addition to that shelf, with all the individual works ranking lower than those while still being nice enough for a couple listens. As befits the good-but-not-great nature of the music, the performances are competent but not inspired, and the recorded sound picture gets a little bit crowded in the Miguez piece when the winds show up.

Todd



Figured I might as well stream a disc from the series.  I'd not heard even one note of music from Cláudio Santoro, so I went with this recording of his Fifth and Seventh symphonies.  Both works sound close to European symphonies of the era (the 50s), though Santoro throws in Brazilian percussion and, more importantly, a rhythmic swagger not often found in music from the Old World.  The Fifth is darker hued overall, and the Seventh, written to commemorate the new capital of Brasilia, has more boogie throughout, and more color.  It's the better of the two symphonies, and both are good enough to hope that all of the composer's symphonies get recorded. 

Superb playing and fully up to snuff modern sound.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

The dollar is our currency, but it's your problem - US Treasury Secretary John Connally to European Finance Ministers, 1971

pjme

Neil Thomson is new to me. Good for him -and us -  that he enjoys conducting Brazilian orchestras in Brazilian music!

He seems to be very busy.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Thomson

His own website isn't (yet?) working...
https://www.neilwthomson.com/about

Brian

Naxos is recording the full Santoro cycle - the next volume arrives in November and features a Frank Martin-like orchestration where the symphony has nine concertante soloists. BIS also released a single CD of Santoro symphonies 4 and 9. The Seventh is my favorite so far, but a lot of GMGers like No. 4 best.

-



Exploring a previous, and digital-only, Naxos issue that is technically not part of the Brazilian series. Leopoldo Miguez's piano miniatures are pure late romantic fluff, and I mean that in the best way. It's a nonstop parade of rosy, glowing miniatures and encore pieces. If you like Grieg's Lyric Pieces, there's no reason you won't like this. (And while these are not necessarily "great" works, they are a step up in craftsmanship from the Suite on the chamber orchestra album above.)

My particular favorite is the berceuse Op 24 No 1, an exquisitely tender lullaby, with a childlike innocence perfectly fitting the name (and a little hint of Grieg again at times). Braz Velloso's piano is closely miked but he plays with great sensitivity and affection. I immediately pulled up his recital of Henrique Oswald salon pieces in a new Qobuz tab.

Todd

The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

The dollar is our currency, but it's your problem - US Treasury Secretary John Connally to European Finance Ministers, 1971

Brian

Quote from: Todd on September 20, 2022, 05:46:15 AM


Figured I might as well stream a disc from the series.  I'd not heard even one note of music from Cláudio Santoro, so I went with this recording of his Fifth and Seventh symphonies.  Both works sound close to European symphonies of the era (the 50s), though Santoro throws in Brazilian percussion and, more importantly, a rhythmic swagger not often found in music from the Old World.  The Fifth is darker hued overall, and the Seventh, written to commemorate the new capital of Brasilia, has more boogie throughout, and more color.  It's the better of the two symphonies, and both are good enough to hope that all of the composer's symphonies get recorded. 

Superb playing and fully up to snuff modern sound.
Just did a second listen to the Seventh and enjoyed it as much as I remembered. There are some violent outbursts (start of the first allegro, middle of the slow movement) and the bass drum player really gets to thwack the heck out of his instrument. Loads of fun, with propulsive energy, folksiness, sometimes sinister undertones (the scherzo is kind of like Walton Meets Villa-Lobos for a rumble in the jungle). Totally delicious, and makes its rather sprawling 38 minute length count.

Todd



The confluence of this thread, mention of Brazil's emperor in another thread, and David Hurwitz's review of this recording prompted me to listen to this recording of music by Pedro I.  Basically, Hurwitz is right: the two religious works are Rossinian opera buffa style pieces, filled with fun, unserious tunes and singing to match, with a vulgar and fun overture sandwiched in between, and a patriotic Hino da Independência do Brasil to wrap things up.  Masterpieces these are not; fun they are.  I may very well stream again in the future.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

The dollar is our currency, but it's your problem - US Treasury Secretary John Connally to European Finance Ministers, 1971

Brian

#9


Like the Miguez album above, this one featuring Henrique Oswald is all about European-style salon piano romances. Oswald spent so much time studying in France and Italy that he was never really able to incorporate Brazilian rhythms into his music when he returned. (The liner notes recount that the King of Brazil gave him a 15-year [!!] stipend to study music in Europe. He was already an adult with a teaching job. The stipend ended when Brazil became a republic, but the new republic obliged by giving him a cushy foreign office job.)

As a result, the sounds here are very typically European; there's an Italian tarantella and swaying barcarolle, a series of romances influenced by, say, young Fauré, and a scherzo in Op. 14 that sounds like a swaying waltz. The booklet notes repeatedly cite Chopin as an influence, and perhaps Chopin inspired the mood of many of these works, but in Chopin you find a harmonic and structural rigor which is not in evidence here. I guess that is the difference between "genius" and "pleasant." I felt ready for the album to end about 15 minutes before it actually ended.

Todd



OK, this is not part of the Naxos series, but it is pretty darned Brazilian.  This disc of four works composed by four Brazilian composers played by the Brazilian String Quartet offers a quick chance to hear three new works, and a South American equivalent of a warhorse.  The warhorse, Villa-Lobos' Sixteenth Quartet, starts things off, and it sounds just nifty, with the rhythmic vitality one expects, even if the Cuarteto Latinoamericano do it better.  Radames Gnattali's Four Nocturnes, basically four small pieces for piano quintet with the composer on piano follows, and it's not very good.  The piano sounds quite poor, and the music blends popular and jazz inspired writing for the piano with more standard string quartet writing.  This is a one and done type work.  Jose Vieira Brandao's Miniatura, at just over five minutes in length, sounds like condensed, intensified Villa-Lobos and significantly understays its welcome.  Cesar Guerra-Peixe's Second String Quartet closes things out, and it is not hard to hear the influence of Villa-Lobos here, either, but the piece has some nice tunes, some ear tingling dissonances, some tangy upper register playing, and a groovy feel sufficient to make me want to hear more. 

The quartet plays well enough, but the recorded sound ain't so hot.  Still, a fun enough streaming experience overall.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

The dollar is our currency, but it's your problem - US Treasury Secretary John Connally to European Finance Ministers, 1971

Daverz



A fantastic CD, and an important addition to the Guarnieri discography.

Roasted Swan

Quote from: Daverz on September 26, 2022, 06:16:06 PM


A fantastic CD, and an important addition to the Guarnieri discography.

Guanieri deserves to be FAR better known!

Brian

I've just received the limited edition Naxos Brazil sampler box set and it is clear that the Brazilian government (which sponsors the series) has spared no expense.

The title on the box is embossed (!) in gold lettering, the back cover has a limited edition number, and the booklet contains the full original liner notes in English and Portuguese plus a two page overview of the history of Brazilian music.

The paper CD sleeves exactly the replicate both the front and back covers of the original releases. It's cool to observe that all artwork throughout is by Brazilian artists.

Brian



Only a partial report this time, because playoff baseball is on soon. But Alberto Nepomuceno's opera prelude and suite are lively works from 1904 and 1891, with sashaying Brazilian rhythms and easy melodic charm. They have the kind of "character" that can make romantic character pieces so charming: bird-like flute solo licks in "Dawn at the Mountains," a sputtering snore figure that repeats at long breath lengths throughout "Napping in a Hammock," and loads of cymbal crashes and a bit of native/folk percussion in the batuque. The prelude to an unfinished opera called O Garatuja was conducted by Richard Strauss in the final days of Nepomuceno's life, and it is a fine example of a B-tier comic opera overture. That is to say, not as good as Donna Diana or most Auber/Suppé overtures, but definitely on a quality level equivalent to the fleet, fun, charming overtures by folks like Offenbach, Thomas, or Lehar, and with a Latin feel that makes it more interesting than many of theirs.

I think I listened to the symphony previously and found it to be much more conventionally Germanic/European, but I will listen again and report back!

Brian



This just appeared on streaming. I had 25 minutes left in the office this afternoon, and Symphony No. 12 was 25 minutes, so I put it on. It's a sinfonia concertante with 9 solo instrumentalists, but unusually, the instrumentalists take turns rather than being combined in counterpoint with each other. The piece starts with orchestra and solo strings, with flute and clarinet interludes; the short second movement is for orchestra and solo trumpet; the finale moves from oboe to French horn to trombone. It's a strange structure, apparently cobbled together from solo pieces Santoro wrote for competition student performers.

I'll have to listen a few more times to digest. It's also some of Santoro's most abstract (least Brazilian/nationalistic) music, which contributes to the sensation of being a symphony of puzzle pieces the listener needs to put together.