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Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, February 2009

Fluent and powerful playing as Sonia Rubinsky nears journey’s end

Indeed, here, in one of the most interesting pieces in this perhaps inevitably bits-and-pieces, it is almost as if Villa-Lobos had cast his eye over Fauré’s Valses-Caprices, an incomparably subtle and playful reworking of a familiar idiom. It is difficult to imagine pianists rushing to learn the Bailado infernal (music where sound and fury signify too little) although they may well wonder at the sudden mystery and violence in Amazonas, the fruit of the composer’s travels in the Amazon valley. Villa-Lobos was a magpie talent, raiding his own and other people’s musical larders for inspiration, yet the power and fecundity of this most prolific of all 20th-centry composers remains awe-inspiring.

There are four world premiere recordings on this disc, some of them still in manuscript. Naxos’s sound is exemplary, James Melo’s notes more than informative and, most of all, Sonia Rubinsky’s playing is a marvel of power, grace and fluency. Volume 8 is eagerly awaited.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, December 2008

This is Volume 7 in Naxos’s well-received series of Villa-Lobos’s piano music played by the composer’s fellow Brazilian, Sonia Rubinsky [Vol 1 - 8.554489; Vol 2 - 8.554827; Vol 3 - 8.555286; Vol 4 - 8.555717; Vol 5 - 8.570008; Vol 6 8.557735]. There’s also a parallel Naxos series of his string quartets [Nos 1, 8 & 13 - 8.223389; Nos 11, 16 & 17 - 8.223390; Nos 2 & 7 - 8.223394; Nos 3, 10 & 15 - 8.223393; Nos 4, 6 & 14 - 8.223391; Nos 5, 9 & 12 8.223392].  The music here may not be as well known as that on earlier volumes—it’s probably best to start, not here but with the first volume, 8.554489, which contains Prole do Bebê (The Child’s Doll) Book 1. 

The composer’s own 1932 transcription of Amazonas, subtitled ‘Brazilian Indian ballet’, is more attractive in its original 1917 orchestral guise and some the Prelúdios sit less well on the piano than on the guitar for which they were written.  Together, these constitute about half of the CD, but if you forget the originals, all the music is attractive; the performances are first-rate and the recording a good deal more than adequate.

I couldn’t put it better than my colleague Glyn Pursglove in his summing up of Volume 5:

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.

GPu’s review also contains useful links to reviews of three earlier volumes in the series.

Nor can I improve on Paul Shoemaker’s judgement that Rubinsky ‘has the perfect touch and style for Villa Lobos’ (review of Volume 4 on 8.555717).

The colourful ballet Amazonas really needs to be heard in its original orchestral form.  The blurb on the back of the CD refers to the ‘multilayered’ nature of Villia-Lobos’s music, an epithet which applies more to his orchestral pieces, but Rubinsky makes as good and colourful a case for the piano version of Amazonas as I can imagine.  Inevitably, the sound of the piano makes the music seem closer to the European tradition and less original, but it still emerges as a ground-breaking work—as important in its own way as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring had been four years earlier… Rubinsky’s performances of them are persuasive; if you don’t know the originals, you’ll probably be more than happy.

Lembranças is also a transcription, this time from part of Bachianas Brasileiras No.2.  Perhaps because this is not one of the Bachianas that I know well, I was more impressed by the music, which seems well suited to the piano.

The short pieces, some of them recorded here for the first time…add to the value of this CD, especially when they are as well played as they are here.

The notes, by James Melo, are informative, though not all the Portuguese titles are translated …With the sole proviso that you may find Villa-Lobos’s chamber music more varied and attractive than his piano works—have a look at Jonathan Woolf’s review of 8.557765—and that one of the earlier piano volumes may be a better starting point than this, the Naxos series of recordings of his piano music is rapidly assuming an authoritative status.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2008

Claiming that his music was ‘the fruit of an immense, ardent and generous land’ shaped the vast range of style and influence that pervaded Villa-Lobos’s generous output. His piano music came from much of his life, the earliest piece on the disc being a transcription by Villa-Lobos of his orchestral score for the 1917 ballet, Amazonas. Its highly coloured and of layered structure calls for a pianist of prodigious technical ability. Sonia Rubinsky tears into it with passion and complete command of the score, the outcome being a brilliant display of keyboard pyrotechnics. We move back two generations in the 1940 Preludios para Guitarra, an essential score for guitarists, but seldom heard in its piano version. Another transcription comes in the jazzy Dansa from his most famous work, Bachianas Brasileiras, andis followed bypieces more akin to the Romantic era, Valse Scherzo and the fiendish Bailado Infernal. The disc contains four world premiere recordings—Feijoada Sem Perigo, Cancoes de Cordialidade, Cortejo Nupcia and Valsa Lenta, all belonging to pieces only existing in the composer’s manuscript. Villa-Lobos seems to have been born into Rubinsky, the Brazilian pianist dealing so comfortably with any musical hurdle thrown at her. At the same time you feel her deep affection, the many singing passages played with so much feeling that you cannot fail to enjoy the disc. The sound is just a little hard in tone of the upper reaches, but crystalline and wonderfully detailed.

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