Villa-Lobos Music for Childen
Here are two invaluable raids on Villa-Lobos’s rich and exotic store of piano music. First and foremost is Marc-Andre Hamelin, whose transcendental sheen and facility bless everything he plays. He makes As tres Marias (‘The three stars’) wink and scintillate with an inimitable verve before continuing with both books of Prole do bebe, registering the change from affection to savagery with impeccable mastery and insight. In Book 1 the tolling bells at the heart of the enchanting ‘Caboclinha’ ring out fortissimo and ben marcato, while Hamelin’s fleetness in ‘Polichinelle’ leaves all others standing.
Yet such delectable charm is virtually erased by the increasingly astringent and percussive Book 2. Here the insect and animal world has graduated from innocence to experience with a vengeance. The ‘Little Wooden Horse’, eyes dilating and nostrils flaring, gallops away from danger and the paper cockroach sounds disillusioned with its lot. Red Riding Hood, too, would surely have fled in terror, not deceived for a moment, from Villa-Lobos’s jaw-snapping, not-so-little ‘Glass Wolf’. Finally, there is Rudepoema, the composer’s supposed masterpiece. Rubinstein was understandably disconcerted by a portrait of such roughness. Hoping for a more genial offering with which to delight his adoring public he quickly abandoned Rudepoema. True, there are brief moments of bittersweet accessibility (the first at 8'41''), but elsewhere the assault is relentless, and even Hamelin’s superb and unflagging brio hardly reconciles you to the music’s length and bombast.
Hyperion’s production is as immaculate as ever and the uninformative accompanying notes, which tell us that the second Prole do bebe ‘continues the charm of the first’ are compensated for by a fine illustration of Helen Millard’s glass wolf baying at the moon and stars.
Caio Pagano’s brilliant and more amiable recital is devoted to music for children and includes six of the 11 volumes entitled Guia pratico. Here one enters a magical world quite without the adult pain and nostalgia that colour Schumann’s Kinderszenen and Debussy’s
Carnaval das criancas is a more ornate celebration of colour and brio, and even when you miss the percussion and off-beat drum strokes from the finale of the piano and orchestra version (recently reissued by EMI in a performance by Cristina Ortiz and Vladimir Ashkenazy) you can only delight in Pagano’s relish, his crisp and stylish playing. He is excellently recorded and the booklet includes several fine photographs of both composer and pianist and an apt front cover of Edivaldo’s Children with Kites.'