ALMEIDA PRADO: Piano Concerto No. 1. Aurora. Concerto Fribourgois / Sonia Rubinsky, pno; Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orch.; Fabio Mechetti, cond / Naxos 8.574225
José Antonio de Almeida Prado, whose massive cycle of piano tone poems, Cartas Celestes, were so brilliantly played and recorded by pianist Aleyson Scopel, here has three of his piano-orchestral works given first recordings by Brazilian-Polish-Lithuanian pianist (how’s that for a combination of nationalities?) Sonia Rubinsky.
It was fascinating for me to hear the Piano Concerto after having traversed the Cartas Celestes. It was clearly written by the same composer, but whereas the Cartas Celestes are amorphic, rhythmically ambiguous works, this concerto has a quite powerful if difficult-to-grasp rhythm and structure. The liner notes describe it as “Beethovenian,” but to my ears it only resembled Beethoven in terms of its emotional impact. Its form is considerably different, being written as a one-theme sonata form structure built around the four-note motif of F, B, F#, C, from which the theme and its development derive. The orchestration begins as dark and brooding, anchored in the lower instruments along with tympani, but as the music becomes more agitated Almeida Prado moved upwards to very bright sonorities including the flute and piccolo. Towards the end of the second section, the orchestra wrests control of the music away from the piano soloist and becomes quite agitated before a crashing chord from the piano quiets things down, leading into a brooding, lower-register theme that is developed in the form of swirling figures.
The second movement, titled “Transparente Floral,” is a mere 4:13 of quietude between the shifting moods of the first movement and the granitic forward push of the third. “Granitico, intenso.” Throughout this concerto, both pianist Rubinsky and conductor Mechetti are fully engrossed in the emotional impact of the music, which is considerable and needs constant attention. Despite the fact that portions of this score are more traditionally rhythmic, it is not easy music to either play or absorb on first listening. It is a score that requires your constant attention in order to hear all the connections between the different sections, although the first 5:29 of the last movement is the easiest to grasp because of its incessant, pounding beat.
Aurora, written in 1975, is much closer in feeling and design to the Cartas Celestes. In fact, the composer said it was “an unofficial Cartas Celestes because it’s not numbered in the same series, but does share the same universe, the same heart, the same élan.” Indeed, the liner notes claim that “He even thought it could form the finale of a monumental concert at which Cartas Celestes I to VI would be played in sequence.” The principal difference, of course, is that it is orchestrally accompanied rather than a piano solo. Here, Almeida Prado uses delicate but edgy orchestration focusing on the high instruments, adding a xylophone to the mix, over a bedrock of basses playing ominous sustained notes. It is also worth noting that Rubinsky, who came from the city of Campinas, is an artist who the composer greatly admired, and she does indeed give this strange, amorphous piece everything she has. The ending is violent, even a bit frightening.
The Concerto Fribourgeois, dating from 1985, was commissioned as an homage to J.S. Bach on the 300th anniversary of his birth, but here, as in the Piano Concerto, the music leans more towards Beethoven than Bach. In fact, the composer himself called it “post-Brahmsian,” though the themes and forms do pay some tribute to Bach as well, particularly the Passacaglia. It is a very serious concerto in a minor mode, with the pianist engaging in stabbing, staccato chords interspersed with trills and keyboard runs. The orchestration here sounds richer and heavier as well. The Toccata furioso is also a modern version of a form that Bach used, but once again transformed through Almeida Prado’s vivid imagination into something quite different and edgier, with sharp-edged string tremolos and biting commentary from the piano. About two minutes into the “Arioso,” the music suddenly becomes more lyrical, with the strings playing a soaring melodic line, which is then followed by the “Moto perpetuo” with its swirling keyboard arpeggios.
This is quite a listening experience! For lovers of modern music, an indispensable disc.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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