Villa-Lobos Piano Works, Vol 4
A wealth of South American music remains unrecorded and so it is good that Naxos has commenced a long-overdue piano cycle of Brazil’s greatest composer, Villa-Lobos. Excellently recorded (the best I have heard from this source) and performed with an immaculate brio, the path is surely set for a major series. Villa-Lobos’s claim that his music was ‘the fruit of an immense, ardent and generous land’ at once disarms familiar criticism of extravagance and formlessness. To regard such largesse through the blinkered eyes of someone exclusively nurtured on a more restrained and economical diet is unacceptable. There may be tares among the wheat but such strictures hardly apply to the music in this Vol. 1 which commences with the enchanting A Prole do Bebe, Book 1 (the Second Book is a tougher, altogether more astringent and percussive experience, while a Third Book is sadly lost, according to James Melo in his outstanding accompanying notes).
Intimately associated with Artur Rubinstein (who rearranged Villa-Lobos’s miniatures, omitting some and ending ‘O polichinelo’ with an unmarked rip-roaring glissando), A Prole do Bebe is here played complete. Sonia Rubinsky makes light of a teasing rhythmic mix in ‘Morenhina’ (No. 2) and in ‘Caboclina’ (No. 3) she relishes Villa-Lobos’s audacity; his way of making his seductive melody and rhythm surface through a peal of church bells. Again, despite strong competition from Alma Petchersky on ASV in the no less delightful Cirandas, Rubinsky scores an unequivocal success, ideally attuned to the central and beguiling melody of ‘Terezinha de Jesus’ (No. 1) with its forte e canto instruction, and allowing the fight between the carnation and the rose (No. 4) to melt into a delicious love duet. Her way with the acrobatic flight of No. 12 (‘Otha o passarinho, Domine’) and the dark erotic undertow to ‘Que lindos olhos’ (No. 15) is entirely sympathetic and she makes a strong case for Villa-Lobos’s idiosyncratic tribute to Chopin; one which presents him as a man of raging passion rather than more circumspect emotion. Sonia Rubinsky is, incidentally, much celebrated in her native Brazil and also in America, and she makes one look forward to Vol. 2 with the keenest anticipation.'