SEPTEMBER 2015: Clelia Iruzun: Ernesto Nazareth: Portait of Rio LORELT LNT139SEPTEMBER 2015: Clelia Iruzun: Ernesto Nazareth: Portait of Rio LORELT LNT139
By RAY PICOT
Villa-Lobos proclaimed Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) to be “the true incarnation of the Brazilian soul” and Milhaud wrote “his playing helped me better understand the Brazilian soul”. Both of these great musicians acknowledged their debt to this modest, pianist-composer. Yet we are not talking about a composer who wrote on large abstract canvasses but one who sought to perfect music on a more modest scale and temperament, finding inspiration in the diverse musics of Rio - the choros bands, the sounds of afro-Brazilian drumming and the lyricism of Italian opera. The sophisticated sounds from the city rather than folk music from the countryside making Nazareth, as Clelia Iruzun describes, ‘the real Carioca’.
Nazareth was a consummate pianist and he also turned his genius to writing music for popular consumption, simple in construction but very well written for his instrument of choice, the piano, and painstakingly revised before publication. This was music intended to be played as it was written and not improvised. That of course has not stopped the legion of arrangers trying to expand the music, but in its solo piano original the music retains its sparkle.
Unlike most popular musicians of his day, Nazareth has retained the affection of musicians and music-lovers, and 150 years after his birth has a website dedicated to his achievements and supporting the continued interest in his music. With some 211 pieces now published, mostly in a range of dance genres, it is noticeable that Nazareth maintains a remarkable consistency of style and quality. His development of the tango and waltz into distinctly Brazilian genres was a notable achievement and influenced later composers. In fact, at a conference in 1926 his music was discussed and taken as a serious leader in the modernist movement.
Nazareth’s music frequently appears on recital discs, but the best way to explore it is through a dedicated disc. There have seen some very interesting recordings in the last few years, but despite the short time I’ve had the album, I keep coming back to this latest recording by Clelia Iruzun. There is something unforced in her approach that is so appealing, and yet she has such fine attention to detail particularly with the dance rhythms. I heard this in her her 1998 disc Latin American Dances where she included two popular Nazareth pieces, Brejeiro and Odeon, though I was also struck at the time how well they stood up against the more ‘classical’ works. With the success of 2005’s Lecuona album, which also featured music written in a more popular style, it was surely a matter of time before Clelia turned to her illustrious countryman.
By way of introduction to her latest recording, Clelia gave a launch recital several months ago which proved to be most illuminating as she included music by Chopin and Gottschalk, two composers whose music had a significant influence on Nazareth. Perhaps it is not surprising that Gottschalk’s creole-inspired dance pieces made him realise he could do much himself with his own country’s legacy. However, it was Chopin’s music that was the real surprise: after hearing Chopin and Nazareth together you can sense the presence of the Polish master in those delightful Brazilian creations. After the concert, Clelia, who also has a great affinity for Chopin’s music (a disc is surely long overdue), explained that Nazareth played Chopin's music in recitals, and it is self-evident on this disc that it had a beneficial influence on different levels.
It was appropriate that the Chopin connection was tangibly underlined in Poloneza, which is evocative rather than imitative, and played with great character. The album has a natural flow that is felt from the outset, as Clelia opens with Escovado, which may sound familiar in an orchestral guise, as it turns up in Milhaud’s Le boeuf sur le toit, written fifteen years later. A personal highlight is Plangente in which the rhythm of the samba is allowed to entwine the lovely melody, played like no other version I have heard. And the ever-popular Batuque sounds vivacious without any disjointed pointing of the tango’s rhythm.
These are just a few highlights in a well-planned and entertaining album that deserves to be in your collection. Comparing this recording with others I know, I found that Clelia’s approach was less propulsive and more laid-back, but without the loss of momentum or spontaneity. She really wants to spend time with these delightful pieces but knows how to avoid them outstaying their welcome. Whilst there is no doubt Nazareth’s music is in Clelia’s blood, perhaps knowing the distinctive interpreters who have gone before her has made her wait till she knew that she has something distinctive to say -which indeed she does - and that is what makes this album stand out. The interpretations are carefully thought-through and sonically the piano is very well recorded, having a very natural yet immediate presence.
The eighteen pieces that Clelia has chosen have plenty of expressive variety - noting that the composer chose his titles very well to suit the character of the piece, albeit samba, maxixe, tango, waltz or fox-trot. She has been very careful to pepper some better known pieces with the less familiar and even manages a world premiere, with characteristic fox-trot, If I’m Not Mistaken, which remained unpublished until 2011.
I should also commend the programme notes, which contain very helpful and interesting commentaries on the individual pieces by Luiz Antonio d'Almeida, the composer’s biographer. It's fascinating to think that someone as popular as Nazareth published Dengoso under a pseudonym because the music was a maxixe which was considered at the time to be risqué. That did not stop it from becoming the first successful Brazilian piece abroad!
This is an album of music from a bygone era that through its honesty and directness does not fade with time. Clelia polishes it up, freshly minted so we can marvel and revel in its elegance and originality.
Lastly, Clelia has released a 7-minute introduction on Youtube in which she talks about Nazareth and her response to his music with live examples. Its a really delightful appendage to a great album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFewEMxx3Ss
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