Piano Music by Heitor Villa-Lobos
with Arthur Rubinstein

Media Review / Listening Diary 2014-07-09


2014-07-09 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2014-11-12 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-21 — Brushed up for better readability


Outline


Introduction

This posting is about solo compositions by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887 – 1959). This is yet another, rather small part of Arthur Rubinstein’s recorded solo repertoire, as published in the recently released “Arthur Rubinstein — The Complete Album Collection“.  None of Villa-Lobos’ compositions were present in my collection so far, hence this post is about Rubinstein’s interpretations alone:

The CDs

Arthur Rubinstein Collection, CDs #1 – 5

Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), cover, CD # 1 - 5

Arthur Rubinstein — The Complete Album Collection
CDs #1 – 5: The Early Recordings 1928 – 1935
Arthur Rubinstein

SONY Classical 88691936912 (142 CDs / 2 DVDs, mono / stereo); ℗ / © 2011
Documentation 162 pp., track listing on CD sleeve

Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), UPC-A barcode
Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), Top cover
amazon media link
“spacer”

Arthur Rubinstein Collection, CDs #11 – 14

Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), cover, CD # 11 - 14

Arthur Rubinstein — The Complete Album Collection
CDs #11 – 14: The Early Recordings 1938 – 1949
Arthur Rubinstein

SONY Classical 88691936912 (142 CDs / 2 DVDs, mono / stereo); ℗ / © 2011
Documentation 162 pp., track listing on CD sleeve

Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), UPC-A barcode
Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), Top cover
amazon media link
“spacer”

Arthur Rubinstein Collection, CD #77

Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), cover, CD # 77

Arthur Rubinstein — The Complete Album Collection
CD #77: Grieg: Piano concerto; Favorite Encores
Arthur Rubinstein
Alfred Wallenstein, RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra

SONY Classical 88691936912 (142 CDs / 2 DVDs, mono / stereo); ℗ / © 2011
Documentation 162 pp., content listing on CD sleeve

Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), UPC-A barcode
Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), Top cover
amazon media link
“spacer”

Arthur Rubinstein Collection, CD #78

Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), cover, CD # 78

Arthur Rubinstein — The Complete Album Collection
CD #78: Rubinstein at Carnegie Hall
Debussy: 4 pieces; Szymanowski: 4 Mazurkas; Prokofiev: Visions fugitives; Villa-Lobos: 6 pieces from “Prole do bebê No.1”
Arthur Rubinstein

SONY Classical 88691936912 (142 CDs / 2 DVDs, mono / stereo); ℗ / © 2011
Documentation 162 pp., track listing on CD sleeve

Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), UPC-A barcode
Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), Top cover
amazon media link
“spacer”

Piano Music by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887 – 1959)

Rubinstein made his first concert tour in South America in 1917; on a second tour in 1920, he met the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (born in the same year as Arthur Rubinstein), the most prominent South American composer to this date. Rubinstein incorporated some of Villa-Lobos’ piano music into his concert repertoire.

“Suíte floral”, op.97

One piece he often included in his concerts in the early years is the third piece, “Alegría na horta” (Joy in the Garden), from the Suíte floral”, op.97, composed in 1917/18: in the “Complete Album Collection” this is included under “The Early Recordings 1938 – 1949” (second entry shown above), recorded in 1941. This is a short, entertaining piece (duration 2’03”), written under the influence of Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) and Gabriel Fauré (1845 – 1924); the recording is of course mono only, though with reasonable sound — Rubinstein never took this up again in later years. Also, the CD set “Arthur Rubinstein — The Complete Album Collection” contains no recordings of the first two parts of the “Suíte floral”, namely “Idílio na Rede” (Idyll in a Hammock), and “Uma Camponeza Cantadeira” (A Singing Country Girl).

A Prole do Bebê

The other tracks with music by Villa-Lobos all feature the first piano suite (series) named “A Prole do Bebê” (The Baby’s Family). For this, I can quote from the Wikipedia entry on Villa-Lobos: In July 1922, Rubinstein gave the first performance of the piano suite A Prole do Bebê (The Baby’s Family), composed in 1918. There had recently been an attempted military coup on Copacabana Beach, and places of entertainment had been closed for days; the public possibly wanted something less intellectually demanding, and the piece was booed. Villa-Lobos was philosophical about it, and Rubinstein later reminisced that the composer said, “I am still too good for them.” The piece has been called “the first enduring work of Brazilian modernism”.

Now, in retrospect, this may sound rather strange: true, the pieces can be viewed as (harmonically) “modern” in the 20’s of the last century — but for sure, they should not be seen as intellectually demanding! Yes, they use the harmonic language of that time — but then, Villa-Lobos based these pieces on children’s songs and a fascinating, virtuosic, rhythmic texture in some pieces, while others sound like a pleasing lullaby — very nice, overall! Rubinstein must have played the entire suite in concert. It took a while for him to start recording them. And he was selective in doing so, unfortunately.

Rubinstein’s Selection, Pieces and Recordings

Here’s the list of titles in this suite, with the years in which Rubinstein recorded them (along with the respective duration):

  1. Branquinha: A boneca de louça (Little White Doll: The Porcelain Doll)
    1941 (2’26”)
    1961 (2’35”), live
  2. Moreninha: A boneca de massa (Little Brunette Doll: The Paste Doll)
    1931 (1’24”)
    1941 (1’26”)
    1961
    , live (1’32”)
  3. Caboclinha: A boneca de barro (Little Mestiza Doll: The Clay Doll)
    1941 (1’38”)
  4. Mulatinha: A boneca de borracha (Little Mulatta Doll: The Rubber Doll)
  5. Negrinha: A boneca de pau (Little Black Doll: The Wooden Doll)
    1941 (1’10”)
    1961
    , live (1’13”)
  6. A pobrezinha: A boneca de trapo (The Poor Little Doll: The Rag Doll)
    1931 (1’41”)
    1941 (1’44”)
    1961
    , live (1’25”)
  7. O polichinelo (The Punch)
    1931 (1’20”)
    1941 (1’17”)
    1961 1’34”)
    1961
    , live (1’16”)
  8. A bruxa: A boneca de pano (The Witch: The Cloth Doll)
    1941 (2’37”)
    1961
    , live (2’23”)

The First Recordings, 1931

From the timing, one can see that Rubinstein’s interpretation has been fairly consistent over the years. All pieces are short, and while he may not have played the entire suite very often, he must have frequently used extracts as encores in his concerts. His first recording dates back to 1931 and featured three pieces from the above list:

  • No.2, “Moreninha: A boneca de massa”
  • No.6, “A pobrezinha: A boneca de trapo”
  • No.7, “O polichinelo”

That is a lullaby between two fast, virtuosic movements, whereby No.7 must have been one of Rubinstein’s favorites — I’m sure he had fun playing it, and it is very effective as an encore, for sure!

A Second Series, 1941

The next recording from 1941 was still mono, of course, but offered somewhat better sound, more clarity — and also Rubinstein’s playing is more detailed, careful, less focused on the sheer effect:

  • No.2, “Moreninha: A boneca de massa”
  • No.6, “A pobrezinha: A boneca de trapo”
  • No.7, “O polichinelo”
  • No.8, “A bruxa: A boneca de pano”
  • No.5, “Negrinha: A boneca de pau”
  • No.3, “Caboclinha: A boneca de barro”
  • No.1, “Branquinha: A boneca de louça”

Here, he started off with the three pieces from the earlier recording, but had them followed by the numbers 8, 5, 3, and 1. This is the most complete recording by Arthur Rubinstein — he did not record No.4, unfortunately. No.8 is the longest of the pieces (along with No.1), featuring both slow as well as virtuosic sections — maybe it also is the one that was the hardest to understand for the audience, which maybe explains why the series was booed when it concluded the series? No.5 is another virtuosic, rhythmic, fast piece. Very nice and pleasing, I think! Also No.3 should be rhythmically pleasing, and No.1 has aspects of a lullaby, as well as sections that remind of “Feux d’artifice” from Debussy’s second book of Préludes.

“O polichinelo”, 1961

In 1961, Rubinstein added a recording of No.7, “O polichinelo”, under “Favorite encores”, on an LP (stereo) with Edvard Grieg’s piano concerto in A minor (third recording shown above). At the age of 74, Rubinstein’s playing has not lost any clarity, virtuosity — my preferred recording, overall.

Concert Recordings from 1961

Finally, again in 1961, Rubinstein included six of the above pieces in a concert at Carnegie Hall that is available as a live recording:

  • No.1, “Branquinha: A boneca de louça”
  • No.5, “Negrinha: A boneca de pau”
  • No.8, “A bruxa: A boneca de pano”
  • No.2, “Moreninha: A boneca de massa”
  • No.6, “A pobrezinha: A boneca de trapo”
  • No.7, “O polichinelo”

Besides No.4, also No.3 fell “through the cracks”. The remaining pieces were not played in numerical order. This may have been for two reasons: Rubinstein probably wanted to keep together the group of three pieces that formed his first selection, back in 1931. This also started his recording selection from 1941, except that now he placed it at the end of the series. Indeed, in a concert it is probably hard not to place “O polichinelo” at the end. It is such an “ear catcher” that likely provokes spontaneous applause. It seems hard to “tone down” to a more moderate piece after that. In that concert, there is indeed lively applause. And Rubinstein’s performance really is excellent; I like these pieces!


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