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Jed Distler, August 2006

Villa-Lobos compiled 137 traditional Brazilian songs into an anthology entitled Guia Prático that later served as the basis for 11 short volumes of piano miniatures under the same title. A pedagogic agenda governs these piano pieces, but not to the rigorous, progressive specifications of, say, Bartók's Mikrokosmos. In fact, the churning rhythms and chordal complexities of Villa-Lobos' piano textures are anything but child's play; yet no matter how sophisticated the pianism, the infectious spirit of the original tunes always remains fresh and vibrant.

Almost every one of the 48 selections included here (books Ten and Eleven are slated for a future release) is a delightful, unpretentious bauble. Sample Espanha, the third piece from Book Two, and you'll get generous helpings of upbeat white-key Petrouchka harmonies, while Book Three No. 5 (Oh, Whirligig!) is pure South American Schumann. Book Five No. 4 (The Stick or Cat Miaow) makes its succinct, lyrical point with simple chromatic chords that remind me of Duke Ellington's intimate keyboard noodling. Either listen in order, or give your random play function a workout, and you'll marvel at Villa-Lobos' unflagging invention from one number to another. It helps, of course, that Sonia Rubinsky's colorful and technically shipshape interpretations are as lovingly nuanced and thoroughly idiomatic as we can desire, and they're beautifully recorded as well. In sum, this valuable addition to the Villa-Lobos discography deserves no less than the highest rating and warmest recommendation.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, July 2006

The first ten volumes of the Guia Prático were published in 1932; an eleventh appeared in 1949. The collection grew from a project on which Villa-Lobos worked with Brazil’s National Commission for Didactic Texts of the National Conservatory of Choral Singing. The project collected traditional songs, many of them children’s round songs, from the various regions of Brazil. Villa-Lobos collected some of the songs himself. Others were collected under the auspices of the Superintendency of Artistic and Musical Education, of which Villa-Lobos was director.

A whole series of volumes of music were planned, for different media: two-voice songs, choral songs, songs with piano accompaniment, music for solo piano etc. But much remained unpublished. Later, Villa-Lobos prepared eleven albums of piano pieces from all this material; nine of these albums are presented here on the fifth volume of Sonia Rubinsky’s admirable series of Villa-Lobos music for Naxos. The other two albums have apparently been recorded also, and will be included on a later volume of the series.

Though it grew out of an educational project, the Guia Prático is not in any sense limited by its origins. There’s hardly anything here that doesn’t demand a certain degree of pianistic sophistication and there are some pieces which require considerable technical resources. Sonia Rubinsky meets all such demands with seeming ease and imbues this collection of miniatures with delightful poetry. A programme of 48 short piano pieces could easily become hopelessly bitty and unsatisfying; it is as much to her credit as to that of Villa-Lobos that this CD is never in danger of becoming either of those things.

Villa-Lobos allows the melodies to sing for themselves, while his accompaniments are richly and variously inventive. Many of these pieces do full justice to their delightful titles, being colourful and evocative. Individual highlights are too numerous for one to do more than pick out a handful. My own favourites include the tripping rhythms of ‘Espanha’, perfect enactment of the mingled fantasy and realism of children at play:

I went to Spain to get my hat back, which is white and blue, the colour of that sky over there.

Hurrah! We are on vacation, school is over. Let’s go home and eat guava paste.

Run, run, run. I’ve already seen you; Run, run, run. I’ve already caught you.

The delicacy of ‘Rosa Amarela’ would grace any piano recital; ‘Vamos Atraz da Serra, Oh! Calunga’ is an exciting toccata-like burst of energy – but I could go on all too easily!

Rubinsky brings a quality of transparency and innocence to her playing of these pieces, resisting any temptation to over-characterise. The recorded sound isn’t perhaps the very best I have heard from Naxos though it is entirely acceptable. One’s pleasure in these pieces is definitely enhanced if one takes the trouble to consult the texts and translations of the original songs, which Naxos have made available on their website.

It would be wrong to make excessive claims for the importance of this music – but it is a treasure house of minor pleasures and also of interest for the light it throws on some of Villa-Lobos’ more ‘serious’ compositions.

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