BACH: English Suite No. 3; GINASTERA: Sonata No. 1; MEHMARI: Grande Baiao de Concerto; RACHMANINOV: Sonata No. 2 – Simone Leitao, piano – MSR

by | Jan 18, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

BACH: English Suite No. 3 in G Minor; GINASTERA: Sonata No. 1, Op. 22; MEHMARI: Grande Baiao de Concerto; RACHMANINOV: Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 36 (1931 ed.) – Simone Leitao, piano – MSR 1405, 62:15 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Brazilian virtuoso Simone Leitao brings a decidedly colorful vitality to this recital (rec. May – July 2011), a varied and rhythmically electric as well as eclectic mix. From the opening Prelude of the G Minor Bach Suite, Leitao projects a febrile motor energy and crisply articulated attacks that bring a layered resonance to the essential dance impulse. Having studied Bach with veteran Frank Cooper, Leitao feels comfortable with embellishments ad libitum. The Allemande enjoys a clean resonant sense of canon and lilted invention. The percussive Courante threatens to become a miniature Hammerklavier Sonata, but the whiplash finesse impresses in its muscular flexibility.  The dignified Sarabande basks in its Iberian contours in a manner a deeply meditative, inward, in spite of Leitao’s hard Steinway patina. The two Gavottes ring pungently and clearly, playfully contrapuntal with a liquid trill and peppery appoggiaturas. The secondary Gavotte softens a bit for Leitao’s legato. A crisp Gigue concludes the Suite, Leitao’s singing line urgent and propulsive.
Alberto Ginastera composed his four-movement Sonata No. 1 in 1952 on a commission by the Carnegie Institute. Ginastera absorbs elements of the Argentine national style, including the sound of strummed guitars, to which he adds serial and polytonal procedures. Leitao drives the first movement Allegro marcato hard, emphasizing its punishing resonance and its infectious, national agogics. The folksy, uneven metrics more than occasionally recall the Prokofiev Toccata or final movement from his Seventh Sonata. The Presto misterioso begins with furious strides, moto perpetuo, that echo the last variants in Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on as Theme of Paganini. The music enters the upper registers, where it lingers against heavy bass ostinati. A real piece de bravura, the movement ends as suddenly as it burst forth. The big movement Adagio molto appassionato now asks the guitar to invoke mystery and passion, the repeated notes akin to sensibilities in Ravel. The individual notes fall like Argentine teardrops into an ocean of volcanic lava. Spatial music as well as vertically resonant, the musical father might be Ligeti. The last movement, Ruvido et ostinato, returns to the pungent pampas once more, Prokofiev on Argentine holiday. The layered stretti build up a colossal wall of sound, ablaze with color, an Argentine firebird whose panoply of feathers and talons dig deeply into the spirit.
Andre Mehmari (b. 1977) brings a new voice to the Brazilian music scene that enjoys a cross-over reputation in classical and jazz idioms. The Grande Baiao de Concerto was written expressly for Simone Leitao, an improvisatory three-part fantasy that exploits Brazilian national colors and rhythms. The Introduction depicts the dry landscape of the Sertao in the northeast. The Andante becomes more lyrical, a paean to the inner poetry of the people. The Toccata synthesizes Brazilian hard-driven baiao rhythms with jazz or Creole elements we seem to recall from Gershwin and Gottschalk. The constantly shifting metrics give Leitao plenty to do, including some lovely singing in the middle section, whose quotes from Chopin’s E Minor Prelude are explicit and nostalgic before the jaguar once more leaps out from the forests of the night. A kind of eerie postlude concludes this impressive piece.
Rachmaninov’s Sonata No. 2 (1913; rev. 1931) allows the epic Romantic in Leitao expression, its bell tones and allusions to Russian Orthodox liturgy rife with passionate impulse. Leitao performs the work for all of its unbridled emotional upheaval, a last series of nostalgic throes before the world apocalypse of WW I. The dark chromatic lines appeal to Leitao, who fills them with sultry mystery and Lisztian demons. The little epigrams in the music add a touch of Grieg. The Non allegro second movement evinces all of the “interiority” we know from Schumann, perhaps informed from dropping figures in Brahms and Liszt. Its second half displays Leitao’s pearly runs in grand sonority. The virtuoso impulse reigns in the last movement, L’istesso tempo; allegro molto, one of those many marches in Rachmaninov that explore his own resistance to the cultural philistines. Despite the inflamed Rachmaninov touches, we feel the spirit of Chopin nigh.
If Leitao plays his D Minor Concerto with the same authority, it should be quite a ride.
—Gary Lemco