Three Centuries of Brazilian Music

Tango brasileiro
Dança de Negros
Dança Negra
Festa no Sertão
Impromptu Lyrique: Quasi una Passacaglia [European premiere]
Twelve Studies – Etudes 4 & 9
Desafio No.37 [world premiere of version for piano & guitar]
Quintetto, Op.18 [UK premiere]

Clélia Iruzun (piano), Fabio Zanon (guitar) & Coull Quartet [Roger Coull & Philip Gallaway (violins), Rose Redgrave (viola) & Nicholas Roberts (cello)]

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 24 November, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room

Clélia Iruzun (piano), Fabio Zanon (guitar) & Coull Quartet [Roger Coull & Philip Gallaway (violins), Rose Redgrave (viola) & Nicholas Roberts (cello)]An evening with three premieres, one of them a UK-first of a work written in 1895, the remainder of the concert featuring composers (with the exception of Villa Lobos) largely unknown to a British audience. However enterprising, this might have courted disaster. Thankfully it was rewarded – and deserved to be rewarded – with a near-capacity audience.

Clélia Iruzun, a one-time pupil of Nelson Freire, is domiciled in London and has established a reputation in South American music with discs of Lecuona, Mignone and Villa-Lobos. She opened the evening with four piano pieces, the earliest the deliciously Chopinesque Tango brasileiro by the short-lived Alexander Levy (1864-1892), of Jewish, French and Russian descent. There followed the energetic Dança de Negros by the wonderfully named Fructuoso Vianna (1896-1976), a pupil of Henrique Oswald, and a similarly energetic Dança Negra by Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993) who enjoys the double distinction of having had the local Chief of Police as his first piano teacher and having being named Mozart (his brothers were Rossini and Verdi) by his ambitious father.

Less unfamiliar is the music of Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), one of the most prolific composers. Festa no Sertão (1936), an extended piece, is sometimes translated as Jungle Festival. It makes considerable demands on the pianist. Iruzun despatched it with an insouciant panache.

At the centre of the programme lay three very different guitar pieces with Fabio Zanon. Marcus Siqueira (born 1974) is musical director of an experimental theatre group and his work has been performed by the Arditti Quartet. Impromptu Lyrique was not an easy listen but oddly memorable. The unusual scordatura (re-tuning) of the guitar produced a hypnotic dream-like sonority. At the opposite extreme was Ronaldo Miranda (born 1948) whose Appassionata is highly approachable and, championed by Zanon, has become part of the repertoire. Last but not least Francisco Mignone (1897-1986); his Etudes are unashamedly display pieces.

As its number (37) indicates, Marlos Nobre (born 1939) has written many Desafios (challenges) for different combinations of instruments, this one (originally for violin and guitar) for the unlikely combination of piano and guitar and dedicated to Zanon and Iruzun. The idea of a Desafio seems akin to the folk tradition where one player challenges another with a theme which is then embellished by each player in turn (rather like duelling banjos in Appalachian music). The combination of instruments worked surprisingly well.

Finally Iruzun was joined by the members of the Coull Quartet, her regular partners with whom she has toured China and will shortly tour Brazil, for the belated UK premiere of Piano Quintet by Henrique Oswald (1852-1931). Although born in São Paulo, Oswald moved to Florence at the age of sixteen but returned to Brazil when he was fifty-one as director of the National Institute of Music. His work well-deserves an occasional outing, not least the scherzo, reminding of Saint-Saëns, and the heartfelt melodically rich Molto adagio, which recalls Schumann.

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