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20th-Century Brazilian Viola Music

Chorinho: Music for Viola and Piano from Brazil Georgina Isabel Rossi, viola. Silvie Cheng, piano. Navona 6537 Total Time: 68:11 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

In 2020, Georgina Isabel Rossi and Silvie Cheng released an album of Chilean contemporary music for viola and piano. Now they turn their attention to the Northeast and the music of Brazil. The current collection, Chorinho¸features works by seven 20th-Century Brazilian composers many of whom will be unfamiliar to most audiences. Three of the pieces are for viola and piano, with the center of the album highlighting solo viola, or piano respectively.

The title piece is by Joao de Souza Lima (1898-1982) and was published in 1978. It has a quite tonal harmonic structure with just a touch of chromaticism that adds expressiveness to the music. Most interesting are the polyrhythmic ideas in the short piece. That same stylistic approach carries into the equally accessible Appassionato, Cantilena, e Toccata (1977) from Osvaldo Lacerda (1927-2011). The modernist style is blended with a bit of romanticism in its lyrical writing which is infused with gorgeous chromatic shifts. The harmony too is rather lush as well. The interesting rhythmic ideas suggest folkloric connections along the way. Brenno Blauth’s (1931-1993) viola sonata (1964) was named best chamber work by the Sao Paulo Association of Art Critics. It also takes inspiration from mid-century modernists in a more intense style that parallels Shostakovich’s modernism. The three-movement piece is a significant find for those interested in expanding the viola literature.

At the heart of the album, Rossi is featured on two works for solo viola. Ernani Aquiar (b. 1950) explores the full range of the instrument and means of creating counterpoint in his Meloritmias: No. 5 (1987). There is a semi-improvisatory quality that comes out more in the opening “Ponteando” that sets a sort of semi-Baroque inspirational style and structural approach to the three movements here. The rhythms still feel influenced by folk musics and the lyrical writing also has the quality of a folk piece. The second movement shifts a bit with a style that imitates a Medieval Portuguese fiddle while the third movement borrows from a viola concerto by J.C. Bach/Casedesus. The interweaving of these styles makes for a rather interesting exploration. Pequeno Estudio, Op. 78 (1981) from Lindembergue Cardoso (1939-1989) takes us more to the avantgarde edge of Brazilian music in this 8-minute essay that explores range and a variety of string effects and techniques. This is a more angular style overall. Also included is a little waltz rondo, the Valsa da dor (1932) by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) which provides some earlier contextual music from a composer whose music would influence future generations of Brazilian composers. It is a somewhat melancholy salon piece with beautiful writing.

As a sort of encore, the duo includes an arrangement of a song by female composer Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga (1847-1936) from an operetta O Forrobado (1912). This pioneering composer and artist wrote some 2000 songs, and the work that this one comes from garnered some 1500 performances in its day. It is a reminder of how much great music exists to rediscover.

As with their earlier album, Chorinho, is a great blend of new accessible music with some forays into more contemporary styles. The program is well-sequenced to allow a gradual invitation into the solo viola only works at the center of the album. The performances are again committed, excellent interpretations. Rossi draws out a gorgeous tone from her instrument and provides fine shaping and articulation that brings out the rhythmic vitality of the music while also capturing the gorgeous lyricism. Cheng is an apt accompanist here emphasizing the rich harmonic supportive backdrops while also having a chance to shine a bit on her own in the Villa-Lobos.

The recording is very immediate in its acoustic with the viola brought forward, but balanced well with the piano making for an intimate sound. Just enough ambience helps add a warmth to the sound picture as well. Chorinho is a release worth seeking out for those looking to discover new composers from the Southern Hemisphere.


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