Heitor Villa-Lobos' two suites entitled A Prole do Bebé (The Baby's Family) are pieces about children, or their things, but they certainly aren't written for children to play. Are they written for children to listen to? It would take a precocious child to get the drift of some of these short (two- to six-minute piano pieces), but there is something childlike in the best way about them -- they are modest in size, not particularly sentimental, and fearless. Villa-Lobos never sounds more like Bartók than he does here, putting devices such as bitonality in the foreground while drawing extensively on Brazilian popular melodies. Book I of A Prole do Bebé depicts dolls, and Book II small animals (there was apparently a Book III devoted to games and sports, now lost). The suites are framed by the Villa-Lobos Suite Floral, Op. 97, and the Choro No 1, "Tipico" -- an inspired programming choice, for they are more conventional Villa-Lobos works that set off the distinctive qualities of A Prole do Bébé. Polish pianist Joanna Brzezinska is a Chopin specialist who has made the reasonable leap to Villa-Lobos; she is not as oriented toward the Brazilian rhythms lurking in the composer's music as many other pianists, but she brings a dry energy to these pieces that's entirely appropriate. Brzezinska's own notes are a bit confusing, with random-sounding headings like "Arthur Rubinstein" (an early Villa-Lobos champion), "Caoutchouc, Wood, and Lead," and "Cloth, Cotton, and Glass." But the engineering, as usual with the Swiss label Claves, is superb -- intimate without being inappropriate. Recommended performances of works that will fill a hole in many collections of twentieth century piano music.
Villa-Lobos: Piano Music
Villa-Lobos: Piano Music Review
by James Manheim
|Suite Floral (3), suite for piano, A. 117 (Op. 97)|
|A Prole do bebê (8), suite for piano, Book 1 ("A família do bebê"), A. 140|
|A Prole do bebê (9), suite for piano, Book 2 ("Os bichinhos"), A. 180|