Giorgio Koukl | 14 AUG 2023
Chilean-American violist Georgina Isabel Rossi and Canadian-Chinese pianist Silvie Cheng present a fascinating program of seven Brazilian composers, some quite famous, like Heitor Villa-Lobos, and some relatively unknown.
The viola repertoire is relatively small, so more new and important viola scores will likely be more than welcome in the world.
This disc, published by Navona Records, limiting the choice of composers to Brazil only, is certainly a very laudable enterprise, but it intrinsically bears a great danger of too much heterogeneity. Nonetheless, making lesser known composers available to the general public is a good action.
Let us take the case of Brenno Blauth (1931-1993). His Sonata for viola and piano is certainly the best score and, with its nearly 20 minutes, the longest work of the whole disc. It is divided into three movements called: “Dramàtico,” “Evocativo,” and “Agitado.”
The structure is complex, difficult to follow, yet fascinating in its evolution. Sometimes similar to a Hindemith work, sometimes with Bartok elements in its relentless rhythmical pulsation, it follows a very personal language, never dull, and technically fully rewarding for both musicians. Ms. Rossi has pristine intonation and usually a well-planned bowing technique. The only lesser points are a certain restraint of her dynamic range and a not-so-much appealing sound of her modern viola.
For the pianist, Ms. Cheng, this is a real vitrine. The repeated notes are faultless, sharp, and very well articulated; the lyrical passages are always played with a good dynamic plan in mind. Here, only a not-so-fine piano sound could be considered a minor glitch.
Ms. Cheng presents herself in a solo piano piece by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) called Valsa da dor. With its five minutes, it is a short miniature, not very typical for the composer. While it is correctly played one could ask why this unimpressive score has been chosen from myriads of far more interesting pages of Villa-Lobos.
The same question arises for the last track of the disc. The composer Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1936), quite famous for her operetta O Forrobodò, certainly deserves to be present in this installment featuring the different Brazilian voices. Unfortunately, she left no scores for viola and piano, so a short piece, called Lua Branca (“The White Moon”) was arranged from that opera by both of the soloists, forming a little less than two minutes finale to the CD. Anyway, this music is not exactly a well-chosen conclusion, being rather unoriginal and musically unappealing.
There are two composers on this disc who have written music for solo viola, a daring task.
The first one is Ernani Aguiar, born in 1950 and thus the only living composer of this selection. He calls his work Meloritmias, and number 5 is dedicated to viola solo. It consists of three movements: “Ponteado,” “Resposta ao bilhete do jogralrrapeixe,” and “Convite ao amigo Cristiano Ribeiro.”
It is certainly a difficult task to write for solo viola, but even accepting this limit, the composer could have done more than a sort of Bach-like suite, with a few out-of-tune notes, which fundamentally form this score. Ms. Rossi is trying hard to recreate a sort of magic and make this score sound well. She displays all her abilities and mostly succeeds in this challenging task.
The eight minutes long piece for solo viola from Lendembergue Cardoso (1939-1989), called Pequeno Estudio, Op. 78, is the only score that can be genuinely called 20th-century music. Even experimenting with unusual bowing techniques in some places it is quite interesting and certainly rewarding for the interpreter.
Despite its title, Osvaldo Lacerda (1927-2011) has written his Appassionato, Cantilena, and Toccata more in the form of a viola sonata. This music is another great contribution to the repertoire for viola and piano, well worth being played more often. The second, slow movement, is particularly touching and emotionally loaded.
The last piece to be mentioned is contemporaneously the first track on this heterogeneous installment. Written by João de Souza Lima (1898-1982), it is called Chorinho, from which the whole album takes its name. This opener is well chosen as the music is a cross-over between classical and dance music, pleasant, brilliant, and very well played by both artists.
This CD might not be generally appealing to the public, but it will certainly find enough people interested in this particular choice of repertoire, most of it is presented here for the first time. ■