Sonia Rubinsky

Villa-Lobos: Piano Music, Vol. 6

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If one were to choose a single volume out of Naxos' edition of Villa-Lobos' piano music with the purpose of getting to know the great Brazilian's voluminous output in this genre, then you would make no better choice than this one, Villa-Lobos: Piano Music 6. This contains Villa-Lobos' largest scale masterwork for piano, the highly experimental and ambitious Rudepoêma of 1921-1926 written for Artur Rubinstein, however this is wisely placed toward the end to make room for some of Villa-Lobos' more appealing and immediate creations. These include As Très Marias, an intoxicating set of etudes that helped make Villa-Lobos' reputation in the United States through a classic recording made for Columbia in 1941 by pianist Guiomar Novaes. There are also some lesser known works that exemplify Villa-Lobos' unique artistic personality -- his Saudades das Selvas Brasileiras (1927), which could easily pass for piano music written in the 1980s, and his remarkable Petizada (The Little Brats, 1912), where the idiom of Debussy is pressed into service to represent the squabbling of incorrigible children. Villa-Lobos, however, seldom reveals his sources of musical inspiration -- the representation of the world around him provides the thrust for his work. The techniques Villa-Lobos uses, like that of a master painter, remain subsumed in the strokes on the canvas. New York Sky Line Melody (1939) was derived from a graph of the New York City skyline; however, this is not the impression one comes away with -- that they've just heard a "graphic score" -- but with an accurate and touching representation of the impressive majesty of New York City's buildings rising from the base of the Hudson River. Another piece of this sort, Melodia da montanha (1938, derived from the outline of the mountain range surrounding Rio de Janeiro) is given its first recording here, along with an early work, Carnaval de Pierrot (1910), as completed by composer Amaral Vieira.

Brazilian pianist Sonia Rubinsky's playing throughout is sensitive, dedicated, and appropriately forceful in the Rudepoêma. Despite his enormous production in the area of piano music, Villa-Lobos did not play the piano himself -- his main instruments were the cello and guitar. As a result, his piano music can be tougher to play than it sounds, and Rubinsky is not only up to the challenge, but she obviously relishes it. Owing to its superb cross section of Villa-Lobos pieces, good sound, and Rubinsky's strong commitment to the material at hand, this Naxos disc is a winner, standing apart from even other entries in its own series.

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