Minczuk Introduces Cardiff to Contemporary Brazilian Music

United KingdomUnited KingdomFiesta Sinfonica! Brazil – Santoro, Guerra-Peixe, Villa-Lobos, Levy, Fernândez:  Jean Louis Steuerman (piano), BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Roberto Minczuk (conductor), Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff. 9.10.2015 (PCG)

Claudio Santoro (1919-89) – Ponteio (1953)
César Guerra-Peixe (1914-93) – Tributo a Portinari (1991)
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) – Momoprécoce (1929)
Lobos – Bachiana Brasileira No 8 (1944)
Alexandre Levy (1864-92) – Suite brésilienne (1890): Samba
Oscar Lorenzo Fernândez (1897-1948) – Reisado do pastoreio (1930): Batuque


The second in a series of three concerts to celebrate the forthcoming tour of South America by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, this programme featured the work of Brazilian composers – not just the well-known Villa-Lobos, but a number of his contemporaries whose work is almost unknown outside their native land. They were conducted by Roberto Minczuk, principal conductor of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, who had selected the programme with a wide-ranging eye; and the orchestra played excellently for him in music that must by-and-large have been totally unfamiliar to them.

We began with Santoro’s Pontelo for strings alone; this was described in Peter Reynolds’s informative programme notes as the composer’s “best-known work” but such a description could only be regarded as relative although it certainly deserves to be better known. The style was curiously reminiscent of Warlock’s Capriol Suite with a Latin American accent, and the slow central section contained a delicate violin solo effectively played by Nick Whiting. The most modern piece in the programme, the Tribute to Portinari by Guerra-Peixe, consisted of four pieces illustrating paintings by Candido Portinari (1903-62) but the cast of the music had decided overtones of a film score conjuring moving images very effectively although the whirlwind scherzo Scarecrow produced a somewhat bitty effect. The first three movements were all in recognisably ternary form, and the Burial in the village achieved a very grand climax in its recapitulation. The final movement was a sort of suite of popular dances, but the individual episodes were again rather short-breathed variations on an initial theme.

Similarly cast in extended variation form, Villa-Lobos’s Momoprécoce featured Brazilian pianist Jean Louis Steuerman; but even he could not altogether disguise an essential sameness of mood, with the energetic solo part never really relaxing with its growing insistency over a span of some twenty minutes. The resultant concoction, with the orchestral scoring sounding very experimental even for the 1920s, only achieved any lyrical expansion just before the end where Steuerman seized the brief opportunities for tenderness that occurred. In the final section the percussion sounded dangerously semi-detached from the rest of the rhythmically pounding orchestra. After the interval the Bachiana Brasileira No 8 gave a much more satisfactory impression, in great measure because the music itself provided so much more contrast. The strings in particular relished their beautiful lyrical melody in the second movement, producing the richness of tone that is such a feature of their performances nowadays. In the frantic Toccata with its romantic middle section, the players of the orchestra covered themselves in glory; and the final fugue sounded for all the world like one of Stokowski’s grandiose Bach orchestrations with a Brazilian spice added.

Exotic percussion was notably absent from Levy’s Samba, but otherwise the piece was generally light-hearted in tone and could almost have been a movement from a Tchaikovsky ballet. It might have made more impression in the context of the complete Suite brésilienne, but it nevertheless made a delightful sort of encore to the programme, and the orchestra thoroughly enjoyed themselves especially in the startling modulations of the coda. Fernândez was described in the programme as being “predominantly active as an academic” but there was nothing at all academic about his Batuque, a scintillating piece with plenty of drive and a marvellous concoction of special orchestral effects. As a final encore were heard an unadvertised piece by Carlos Jobim, the composer of The girl from Ipanema, which was intended to commemorate the workers who had built the city of Brasilia – which presumably explained the sudden ending, a sort of “work under construction”.

The orchestra depart on their South American travels on 22 October, beginning with a series of workshops in Patagonia and then giving a series of concerts in various metropolitan venues: Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires (2 and 4 November), Teatro el Circulo, Rosario (5 November), Teatro del Libertador, Cordoba (6 November), CórpArtes, Santiago (8 November) and Teatro Solis, Montevideo (11 November). The programmes vary from location to location, but include harp concertos by Ginastera and Glière with soloist Catrin Finch, the Britten Sea interludes from Peter Grimes, symphonies by Dvořák and Tchaikovsky, and Welsh works by William Mathias and Huw Watkins. Audiences in those cities should make every effort to attend these performances by a British orchestra currently at the peak of their form. They will be well rewarded.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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