New Classical Tracks: Brazilian impressionsby Valerie Kahler, Minnesota Public Radio
When the Brazilian pianist Ernesto Nazareth played for 1920s film audiences, his music got as much attention as the movies he was ostensibly introducing. A new disc celebrates Nazareth's elegant, evocative art.
St. Paul, Minn. — Do you ever have the sense that you were born in the wrong era? That you were meant to live in a time where gentlemen wore hats and ladies wore gloves? Have I got the soundtrack for you.
Pianist Antoine Zemor says his new recording of Brazilian Dances by Ernesto Nazareth is your ticket to a tropical paradise. But with all due respect, I disagree. It took me someplace else -- to the movies.
Not today's multiplex theaters, with surround sound and stadium seating, but to the Bijou, the Palace, the Orpheum of my grandparents' era.
These were the gorgeous Art Deco buildings with imposing marquees, ushers with flashlights, and pipe organs or pianos -- holdovers from the silent movie days when the soundtrack was all in the hands of whoever was sitting at that keyboard.
At the Odeon Theatre in Rio de Janeiro, circa 1920, that person was a Brazilian composer named Ernesto Nazareth. People came great distances, making sure to show up early to hear him perform the pre-movie show.
The title track of this CD is a piece he wrote during that period, named after the theater where he worked. "Odeon" captures that special wacky energy of the flapper era, but with a definite Brazilian accent.
A tune called "July 9th" marks the start of an uprising in Sao Paolo that came to be known as the Constitutionalist Revolution. Despite those warrior themes, the piece itself brings to mind Scott Joplin's Spanish serenade "Solace," with its sleepy tango rhythm.
In "Ameno Reseda," it's hard NOT to imagine the silent film this piece may have accompanied -- a man in a suit out for a stroll on a cheery spring day. Suddenly, a cry for help! A pretty young thing has caught the heel of her boot in the cobblestone street, and here's a runaway carriage! Can our hero reach her in time?!?
The music of Ernesto Nazareth's Brazil was an international bazaar: European "serious" classical music rubbed shoulders with Rio de Janeiro street songs, African rhythms, early jazz and fragments of ragtime. Nazareth's style was a natural synthesis of these influences.
While most of the music on this CD leans toward the popular -- tangos and waltzes and other Brazilian dances -- you can also hear evidence of the classically-trained Nazareth from time to time. "Passaros em festa" weaves in and out of Chopin and Mendelssohn territory in a very charming way.
Played with an elegant and loving hand by Antoine Zemor, the music is light and sentimental -- full of nostalgia for a time most of us only learned of secondhand.