Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) was a Brazilian composer who often worked within popular dance forms and used their constraints with consummate creativity. Fans of either American ragtime composer Scott Joplin or Argentine tango master Astor Piazzolla are likely to enjoy his music, and they may not be able to do better than this disc, and others in the series of which it is part, by Brazilian pianist Maria Teresa Madeira (active in purely popular music as well as a Nazareth specialist). Nazareth's short piano pieces are multi-strain dances, with repeats, very much akin in structure to Joplin's rags. As a general matter, her approach to semi-popular music is exemplary: she neither hams things up, nor tries (like American ragtime pianist Joshua Rifkin) to put on a classical sheen, nor adds in rhythms that weren't there. More specifically, she is attuned to the particular subtleties of Nazareth's music. The rhythms are not so different from the basic ones that animated North American popular music in the late nineteenth century, grafting African patterns long but inaccurately referred to as syncopations onto central European dance rhythms, the best-established being the polka. The results include several varieties of tango, with one type (sample Sagaz, track 5) specifically designated as a "tango brasileiro." The polkas themselves are quite diverse and have their own mysterious local variants: try Vocé bem sabe, track 7, apparently Nazareth's earliest published piece, composed in 1877. It is designated a "polka-lundú," whatever that might be. There are also waltzes, and, on another disc in the series, marches, sambas, examples of the uniquely Brazilian choro, and more. All these dances are inflected in subtle and characteristically Brazilian ways, which is key to their charm, and which are Madeira's strong point above and beyond the clarity and smoothness of her playing. It's hard to think of anyone other than listeners allergic to any trace of popular influence who would not enjoy this disc and others in the series. Three pieces add flute and violin (or just a flute) to the piano, an entirely appropriate procedure and one that ought to be adopted, or adapted, more often by pianists specializing in ragtime and other semipopular American genres of a century ago. Notes are in Portuguese only.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim