Villa-Lobos Piano Works

Dolls, animals and impressions of summer spring from VL’s imagination

Author: 
Guy Rickards

Villa-Lobos Piano Works

  • Suite floral
  • Prole do bebê, Book I
  • Prole do bebê, Book II
  • Chôros No. 1

The first book of A prole do bebê (1918) was written for, and a great favourite of, Arthur Rubinstein (sadly no complete recording of his is currently available). Claves’s cover states that Joanna Brzezinska cracks through this charming suite of dolls’ portraits in a blistering 10'39": in fact her total time is a relaxed 18'05". Performances normally pan out at around a quarter of an hour, so she is on the slow side; compared to Hamelin (well under 14'), almost sedate. The second book (1921) is a different matter. Depicting a range of “little animals”, it is twice the length of the first and at Brzezinska’s more leisurely pace emerges as a much weightier prospect, revealing darker undertones to these innocent visions of childhood toys. The “very sad and endearing” (to quote her own note) “O boisinho de chumbo” becomes almost menacing by the close. Brzezinska clearly has the measure of the repertoire but both Hamelin – first choice for A prole do bebê – and Petchersky bring out the composer’s whimsy rather better.

I had not listened to Villa-Lobos’s Suite floral (1918) for quite a while, so remaking its acquaintance here has been most welcome. Its succession of “Summer Idyll” (“Idyll in the hammock” might be a better rendering of “Idilio na rede”), “A Singing Country Girl” and “Joy in the Garden” makes a splendid opener, full of bright colours and vivid contrasts neatly brought out by Brzezinska. Her tempo choices again vary from her rivals, not least Heller, who outpaces her in the outer movements but lags a minute behind in between. Claves’s sound is clear and natural and the bonus of Gao’s transcription of the First Chôros (sounding almost like a lost Joplin rag) is winning.

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