Brasileiro

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Villa-Lobos; Oswald; Levy; Neto; Guarnieri and Santoro
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Brasileiro
PERFORMER: Nelson Freire (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4783533

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Nelson Freire is renowned for his performances of the larger works of classical repertoire, yet he has never neglected his Brazilian roots. This affectionate tribute to the (mostly 20th-century) piano music of his homeland is an absolute delight, encompassing 30 tracks of perfect miniatures. Naturally, Villa-Lobos dominates, with the complete Carnaval das crianças (Children’s Carnival) and a clutch of individual pieces including New York Skyline and deeply affecting interpretations of Alma Brasileira and A lenda do caboclo; all one can think, listening to these marvellous accounts, is what a tremendous master of the keyboard he was. But there are gorgeous contributions, too, from Mozart Camargo Guarnieri, Oscar Lorenzo Fernández, Francisco Mignone, Claudio Santoro and others, including Alexandre Levy’s smoky Tango Brasileiro from 1890, which Milhaud adapted in his ballet Le boeuf sur le toît.

It’s easy to make this sort of repertoire, at root mainly songs and dances, splashily virtuosic or comfortably sentimental, but to treat it with Freire’s kind of artistry raises it to an entirely different level. There’s plenty of flair and soul, yet the playing is always crystalline and precise, perfectly pedalled, the colours as subtle as a Debussy prelude, the sentiment and nostalgia projected with rare refinement and delicacy, as in the second of Fernández’s Três estudos em forma de sonatina. And to turn a bubble as insubstantial as Mignone’s Valse élégante into something as intensely poetic as a Chopin waltz, as Freire does here, is a special achievement. Just drop-dead gorgeous repertoire and performances: I don’t think I’ve enjoyed any piano recording more this year.

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Calum MacDonald