Monday 14 March 2016

Brasil Brasileiro - Song in the City goes to Brazil

Gavin Roberts - artistic director of Song in the City
Gavin Roberts - artistic director of Song in the City
On Thursday 10 March 2016, I caught Song in the City in Brazilian mood. As part of their Cantigas & Saudade series, Brasil Brasileiro saw pianist Gavin Roberts, sopranos Regina Freire, Joana Gil and Sofia Marafona, tenor Joao Valido Vaz, baritone Jorge Castro and violinist Diogo Ramos in a programme of Brazilian music in the Hall, St Botolph without Bishopsgate, EC2M 3TL.

Apart from Heitor Villa Lobos and Carlos Gomes, all the composers were new to me and most of the music by Villa Lobos was unfamiliar also. We had music stretching from the early 19th century through to that of Ernst Mahle (born 1929). What was amazing was the sheer variety of music on offer. We started with a romantic folk-ballad from Jayme Ovalle (1894-1955), quickly followed by Villa Lobos' Sertaneja where the soprano almost duelled with the violinist (and I think the soprano won). And then an appealingly catchy song about the Ulrapuru bird by Waldemar Henrique (1905-1995).

The singers all sang from memory and each vividly put over the songs, with some flowing directly from one song to another. All the singers were in fact Portuguese, studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and had adjusted their accent and pronunciation to give us a really Brazilian experience, and really striking it was. Even with the printed words it could be tricky to follow the songs.

A sequence of music by Villa Lobos mixed piano solos from Prole do bebe (The Baby's Family), with a remarkably varied selection of songs from the Melodia sentimental to the intriguing Nhapope which mixed rhapsodic and dance elements.

The sense of  dance underlying everything was very striking,. These varied from the perky delight of  Sao Joao by Ernani Braga (1868-1945), to the touching melancholy of Cantiga by Francisco Mignone (1897-1986). We had two really period items, a tradition song by Jose Francisco Leal (1792-1829) and a lovely sentimental, rather salon-like song by Carlos Gomes (1836-1896), who is best known for his opera Il Gurany.

Melancholy was also a predominant sentiment, Longe da Esposa by Rafale Coelho Machado (1814-1887), and Villa-Lobo's Nesta Rua, and the haunting waltz Valsinha do Marajo by Waldemar Henrique. The catchy popular vein returned with Villa Lobos' Modinha and the lively characterful Leilao de jardim (in fact an auction complete with soprano stood on a chair) by Ernst Mahle. We finished with Francisco Mignone's Donna Janaina which ended with the cast all dancing off, still singing. A complete delight.

I have to confess that I omitted to check which soprano was which, so I have not credited any of the performers. But there is hardly need, all were characterful and completely charming in their delivery.

There is a further chance to catch this delightful repertoire. On Tuesday 15 March 2016, at 7.30pm at St Marylebone Parish Church, Song in the City is presenting a Cantigas & Saudade evening, in a programme devised by Susan Waters and Gavin Roberts, Portuguese speaking students from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama perform a programme of songs and spoken word. Full details from the Facebook page.

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