Spirit Of Brazil - Assad, Villa-Lobos, Gismonti / Aquarelle Guitar Quartet

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This is CD whose pleasures have grown and grown with repeated listenings, as new subtleties are noticed and the perfection of the ensemble work becomes more evident.

The Aquarelle Guitar Quartet was originally established at the Royal Northern College of Music at Manchester by students of Craig Ogden and Gordon Crosskey. In its present incarnation it is a fine, accomplished group and the understanding of the idioms relevant to the music on the present CD cries out from every track. My only quibble is with their choice of name – a term which refers to thin watercolours seriously underplays the vibrancy and drive of their work. I say this even if their playing does also have, at times, the subtlety and transparency one might also associate with aquarelles.

Most of the music here is engaging without being especially profound. Two generations of the Brazilian Assad family are represented, father Sergio and daughter Clarice. Sergio Assad is a distinguished guitarist-composer and this performance of his Uarekena no doubt benefited from the fact that the group spent a week with Assad shortly before making the recording. It shares its name with one of the Amazonian tribes, the sense of such a geographical background partly evoked in the chattering cross-rhythms of this intriguing piece and its flickering alternations of dense and simple textures. Clarice Assad is represented by Bluezilian and Danças Nativas. The first was premiered by the Aquarelle Quartet in 2006 and is an infectious confection of the phrases and rhythms of blues and jazz as well as of such Brazilian genres as the samba and the baião. A similar mixture characterises the first of her three Native Dances, Twisted Samba (with a glance at Antônio Carlos Jobim’s Samba Torto), samba rhythms underlying some jazzy harmonies and phrases; the second movement, Reflective Cançao does indeed start off as a thoughtful song before morphing into a lively waltz. The third, Mad Baião, interweaves intriguingly the rhythms of the baião with some sharply strummed phrases. Ms. Assad’s music is witty and cool, constantly inventive and always pleasing to the ear.

The longest work here is a six part suite by Roland Dyens, the important French guitarist-composer; Brésils is an attractively various work, its movements grouped in a clearly structured fashion. Its first movement, De Natureza, echoes musically the natural sounds of the Amazon, full of clicks and rustlings, chirrups and whispers, miniature explosions of activity and brief silences, insect- and bird-like patterns of call and response. Chôro Legal moves us into a human world, a world expressed in relaxed and flowing music, a sense of human friendship and communication. Its relative intimacy is succeeded by the more public music of Marchinha do ceù (Celestial March), which audibly alludes to the drums and marching bands of the Carnival. Things are very different in Modinhazùl, predominantly introspective and sad, imbued with a kind of graceful and dignified melancholy. The penultimate movement, O Spirito do João is dedicated to the legendary figure of João Gilberto and, aptly enough, is a bossa nova. The suite closes with Xaxarê (the title relates the piece to a Brazilian dance, the xaxádo, traditionally associated with the bandits of Pernambuco, which takes its name from the sound of sandals beating on sand); Dyens demands the use of extended techniques from the players in a piece full of percussive writing, a reminder of the contribution to the language of Brazilian music made by its large population of African slaves.

No musical representation of the ‘Spirit of Brazil’ could be complete without Villa-Lobos. Here we get an arrangement of the familiar (and still lovely) melody from the fifth Bachianas Brasileiras; much arranged as this piece is – and one can understand why many ensembles of different kinds would wish to play it – I always find myself hankering for the original, even in a good arrangement such as this. The witty Brincadeira (A Joke), the brief second movement of the composer’s first String Quartet of 1915, works well in its new form.

Pauolo Bellinati’s A Furiosa alludes, according to the booklet notes by Michael Baker and Rosy Russell, “to the incredibly virtuosic street musicians of Brazil, known as ‘The Furious Ones’” and is a contagious piece based on the maxixe, which has been described as a kind of Africanised polka.

Egberto Gismonti, classically trained - including two years in Paris with Nadia Boulanger - is one of the great musical eclectics, a multi-instrumentalist (and vocalist) whose interpretation of the Brazilian tradition is informed by his familiarity with the languages of jazz and classical music, the blues and African music as well as by his openness to the folk music of other cultures. He is a great improviser and the duet version of his Palhaço has been transcribed (by James Jervis) from a recorded performance on piano and synthesiser – the results are beautiful, a gently melancholic meditation of great character. Gismonti’s Memória e Fado closes this fine album, played by the duo of Mike Baker and Vasilis Bessas, an intimate and wistfully reminiscent piece of nostalgic loss; one only misses the evocative lyrics of the original.

This is CD whose pleasures have grown and grown with repeated listenings, as new subtleties are noticed and the perfection of the ensemble work becomes more evident.

-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10512

  • UPC: 095115151228

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Clarice Assad, Egberto Gismonti, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Paulo Bellinati, Roland Dyens, Sérgio Assad

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Aquarelle Guitar Quartet

  • Performer: James Jervis, Michael Baker, Rory Russell, Vasilis Bessas