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Guiomar Novaes: The Complete Published 78-rpm Recordings, 1919-1927; 1940-1947 [TrackList follows] – APR (2 CDs)

Guiomar Novaes: The Complete Published 78-rpm Recordings, 1919-1927; 1940-1947 = GOTTSCHALK: Grande fantasie triomphale sur l’hymne national bresilien, Op. 69; GLUCK: The Dance of the Blessed Spirits; Gavotte in A; Caprice sur les airs de ballet d’Alceste; BEETHOVEN: Turkish March; RUBINSTEIN: Nocturne in G; MOSZKOWSKI: Guitarre; La Jongleuse; PADEREWSKI: Nocturne in B-flat; CHOPIN: Mazurka in D, Op. 33, No. 2; Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 47; MENDELSSOHN: Spring Song, Op. 62, No. 6; LISZT: Gnomenreigen; Waldesrauschen; MACDOWELL: Hexentanz; PHILIPP: Feux-Follets; LEVY: Tango Brasiliero; ALBENIZ: Tango in D; Evocacion; Triana; R. STRAUSS: Staendchen; VILLA-LOBOS: O Polichinelo; As tres Marias; Prole do Bebe – excerpts; Popular Brazilian Children’s Songs; IBERT: The Little White Donkey; SCARLATTI: Sonata in G Minor, K. 450; Sonata in G Major, K. 125; MOMPOU: Jeunes filles au jardin; COUPERIN: La tendre Nanette; DAQUIN: L’Hirondelle; BACH: Toccata in D, BWV 912; MOZART: Rondo in A Minor, K. 511; PINTO: Scenas Infantis; GUARNIERI: Toccata – Guiomar Novaes, piano – APR 6015 (2 CDs), TT: 2 hours, 30 minutes (12/9/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Brazilian piano artistry had in Guiomar Novaes (1895-1979) a special talent, nurtured in her native culture in the manner similar to what Monique Haas meant to French music, a rarified sensibility that held a unique, exportable flavor. Editor and producer Seth B. Winner assembles those early recordings by Novaes, for RCA and Columbia, respectively, that have remained most precious to her admirers, mostly miniatures and character pieces that respond well to her touch, phrasing, and spontaneous gift for musical nuance.

Disc one begins and ends with, respectively, an acoustic (1920 and 1923) and electrical (1927) reading of Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s splashy 1869 Grande fantasie, presented by Novaes in such bold colors in the prior inscription that the acoustic process barely contains her scintillating upper registers, oceanic tremolos, and explosive chords. The electrical process allows the ringing flamboyance of the work a fuller sonic breadth. A music-box sonority graces Novaes’ Gluck The Dance of the Blessed Spirits (1923), rife with lustrous jeu perle. Novaes’ realization of the Brahms arrangement of the Gavotte in A (1920) steps lightly and artfully, setting itself next to those inscriptions by Hofmann and Ney as a rendition of choice. Anton Rubinstein’s Nocturne in G, Op. 75, No. 8 (1923) at first seems to beckon to Chopin’s A-flat Ballade, then goes its own way with a series of parlando runs. The Nocturne in B-flat Major, Op. 16, No. 4 of Paderewski (1920) offers a more lilted intimacy. A real moment of Polish pride emerges in Chopin’s Mazurka in D (1920), every national measure confident in its metric propulsion.

If we recall that Novaes’ idol remained her teacher Isidor Philipp (1863-1958), we maintain a surer paradigm of her dominant ethos, which embraced Hungarian, German, Iberian, and Brazilian repertory with uncanny sympathy. The two Liszt concert etudes, Gnomenreigen and Waldesrauschen (1923), exhibit a fleet, diaphanous touch and brilliant dexterity on a thoroughly bravura level, again competitive with the likes of Hofmann and Kentner. Philipp the composer has a brief tribute in the form of his Feux-Follets, Op. 24, No. 3 (1919 and 1947, for Columbia), whose succession of misty double notes, fluttering arpeggios, and ravishing left hand chords does her mentor proud, and played even faster in 1947. The same epithets apply to Novaes’ stunning Hexentanz (1923) of MacDowell. The last of the acoustic records, the 1920 inscription of Alexandre Levy’s Tango Brasiliero, speaks volumes of idiosyncratic national colors. April 8, 1927 proffers five electrical recordings for RCA, beginning with a sultry Tango by Albeniz (arr. Godowsky). Thin wisps of rain or liquid magic rule in Godowsky’s transcription of the Richard Strauss Staendchen. Heitor Villa-Lobos, whose music will feature more overtly in 1947, has a quicksilver etude in O Polichinello. From his Histoires, Jacques Ibert’s The Little White Donkey generates a plastic wit similar to what we know from Debussy; so much more the pity that Novaes did not record that French master, whom Philipp had known and represented well.

Disc 2, having first proferred a liquid Feux-Follets of Philipp, proceeds to the alluring nocturne by Mompou, Jeunes filles au jardin from his suite of Children’s Scenes. Novaes then indulges her capacities in the Baroque modality (29 March 1940) with lightly brittle sonatas by D. Scarlatti. The cascades of repeated notes of the G Major breeze by in enchanted flurries. Francois Couperin benefits from the dignified rendition of his La tendre Nanette, in which Novaes’ keyboard approaches the harpsichord sonority without undue mannerism. A minor whirlwind, Daquin’s L’Hirondelle scampers by in etude touches. The major entry in this Baroque excursion, Bach’s D Major Toccata, BWV 912 (12 November 1946), adds a Mediterranean fluency and agile grace to a genre usually dominated by the likes of Edwin Fischer.

Novaes assumes a fascinating balance in her approach to Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor, K. 511 (2 July 1941), a cross of empfindsamkeit and rococo sensibilities, ornamental and emotional, at once. Swishy shellacs (22 November 1946) do not too much detract from Novaes’ lyrical sway with Chopin’s A-flat Ballade, whose various voice registers consistently complement each other, the galloping episodes’ gaining a tenderly ineluctable power without having resorted to “percussion.” We hear the lithe sonorities of  Gluck via the bravura of Saint-Saens, with the Caprice on Airs from the ballet from the opera Alceste (3 January 1947), a polished display of detached chords, alla musette, and expressive ornaments. The major commitment to aspects of Villa-Lobos’ opera, 1940 and 1946, has Novaes’ traversals of various suites that exploit folk melodies and ethnic rhythms, much in the manner of Bartok and Kodaly’s supple work with Hungarian music. The melodic side of this music, however, likely makes a better analogy with Robert Schumann.  Novaes then pays homage to her composer-husband, Octavio Pinto (1890-1950) with five Memories of Childhood, again a Brazilian incarnation of Schumann’s childlike capacity for wonder in simplicity but colored by Debussy syntax.

Camargo Guarnieri composed his wicked Toccata (20 February 1947) specifically for Novaes’ rapid leggierissimo, cast in murderous double notes. The two excerpts from the Albeniz Iberia suite (6 February 1941) immediately have us comparing her to Alicia de Larrocha by way of a model of interpretive excellence, warm, ripe, and rhythmically subtle in the distribution of perpetually magical colors. Novaes fulfills each of Debussy’s claims for her having “…the qualities of a great artist…and the power of complete inner concentration which is a characteristic so rare in artists.’

—Gary Lemco

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