Nelson Freire: Brasileiro
Nelson Freire, imperceptibly assuming the mantle of the piano’s elder statesman, is now in his late sixties. There are few works in his repertoire that he does not play better than any living pianist. Anyone who saw his appearance at this year’s Proms will have heard an artist at the top of his game playing, on that occasion, Villa-Lobos’s Mômoprecóce (loosely translated as ‘Child Carnival King’), which happens to be the one-movement piano-and-orchestra version of the suite of short pieces that opens Freire’s latest disc: Carnaval das Crianças (‘Children’s Carnival’; he omits the eighth and final piece, ‘A folia de um bloco infantil’, for the very good reason that Villa-Lobos rather inconveniently wrote it for piano duet.)
This programme is, as the booklet suggests, something of a sentimental journey for Freire, a tribute ‘to composers little known outside Brazil whose repertoire helped to shape his own musical personality’. The pieces by Netto, Levy, Oswald, Mignone – and of course Villa-Lobos – he learnt as a child. From the opening bars of ‘O ginete do Pierrozinho’, you know you’re in safe hands as Freire presents a masterclass in nonchalant playfulness, capturing to perfection the charm of a composer often criticised for being too fecund and unselfcritical but here heard at his best. Contrast that with the different sound he produces for the touching introspection of Chôros No 5, Alma Brasileira, and then again with Claudio Santoro’s Toccata and the concluding Congada by Francisco Mignone. Freire is a class act – and ‘Brasileiro’, immaculately recorded by the way, is sheer delight from start to finish.