If you have never heard of Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920) take a moment and read.
The Brazilian composer started studying music with his father, who was himself a professional musician in Fortaleza, Brazil. In 1872, the family moved to Recife where he started studying piano and violin, and where as a young adult he became very active in politics leading to the creation of the Republic of Brazil.
In 1888, while studying in Europe Nepomuceno met a Norwegian girl who had been a student of Edvard Grieg. They married and moved to Bergen, the Norwegian composer’s hometown, where Grieg, himself a proponent of nationalism in music took the younger Brazilian under his wing, convincing him to write music which reflected Brazil and its culture. The Nepomucenos then returned to Brazil, where he continued to write and teach – Heitor Villa-Lobos was a pupil – until his death in 1920.
Nepomuceno’s music is utterly Brazilian: exuberantly tinged with saudade in its harmonies and in its wafting hesitations from major to minor, yet joyful in melody and inexhaustibly inventive in orchestration. Mining the choros of the Brazilian north, the elegant maxixes of the south, the raucous marches, sad mornas and exciting sambas of the Rio Carnaval, and adding to all that the Afro-rhythms of the candomblé rites of Bahia, Nepomuceno melds and molds all the exotic threads and strains of the folkloric feast of South America’s largest country into music as original, as pleasing to the ear, and as emotionally charged as ever heard from the pen of a South American composer.
His prelude to the never-completed opera O Garatuja auspiciously opens the CD, played with contagious enthusiasm and flair by the excellent Philharmonic Orchestra of Minas Gerais, under the baton of Fabio Mechetti. It is a charming comic opera opening, more overture than prelude in both length and in its generous use of thematic material from an opera that never was.
The best offering of this CD is surprisingly not the 1893 Symphony in G minor that closes the CD: an accomplished, yet youthful work by an immensely gifted composer still finding his voice. More Brahms than Brazilian in sound, it is nevertheless a perfectly listenable work with hints of great things to come. The Minas Gerais musicians deliver a top of the line reading of the Nepomuceno score.
Interestingly, the earlier by two years Série Brazileira (Brazilian Suite), a four-part tone poem, is the heart and soul of the CD. The opening Alvorada na Serra (Sunrise in the Mountains) begins with a delicate duet for oboe and flute that gradually ascends melodically, evoking the ascent of the sun. Birdcalls from the woodwinds are added, underpinned by a hymn-like melody given to the strings. It is a perfect evocation of nature, and it alone would qualify Nepomuceno as a brilliant orchestrator.
The lively Intermédio serves as an outburst of energy between the bucolic opening movement and the following Sesta na Rede (A nap in a hammock), a somnolent oasis in the middle of an afternoon occasionally interrupted by the unwanted buzzing of insects, musically depicted here by playful snippets played by woodwinds kept busy by Nepomuceno.
The day that started so quietly with the rising of the sun ends with a rousingly syncopated Batuque imported to Brazil by the people of Cape Verde: a wonderful finish that gives the Minas Gerais musicians a hearty workout.
Naxos has embarked on an ambitious project, hand in hand with the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and this CD of music by Alberto Nepomuceno, recorded in Brazil last year bodes well for the projected Music of Brazil series. The engineering of Ulrich Schneider and the scholarly notes by Paulo Sergio Maleiros and Gustavo de Sa are peerless. Nothing short of stunning is the brilliantly luminous, completely cohesive sound that the Minas Gerais maestri produce under the inspired and supple leadership of Fabio Mechetti.
A Brazilian Discovery!
Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com