Discophage,France (March 17/2008: Review Divertimento/Concerto Breve of Marlos Nobre

I discovered the music of the contemporary Brazilian composer Marlos Nobre on the occasion of a survey of Villa-Lobos ‘Amazonian’ music – Nobre´s ‘Convergencias’ was the filler to a fine Delos disc. I liked it enough to want to explore more, and more is this, a 2 CD-set published by the Swiss label Léman Classics (Marlos Nobre: Orchestral, Vocal, Chamber Works, Leman LC 44100)and the most compreensive collection devoted to the composer than can be found in CD. IT IS GREAT.
The set gathers pieces composed betwen 1963 (the the Rhythmic Variations -Variaciones Rítmicas- for Piano and ‘typical Percussion, the Divertimento for Piano & Orchestra and 1980 Sonancias nº 3 for 2 piano & 2 percussionsits. Nobre himself plays the piano, conducts and is artistic director of all works, so one can assume that the interpretations are authorative.
Past the 1964 DIVERTIMENTO, which can be described, at least in its outer movements. as a wild Villa-Lobos or Milhaud (the middle movement is more terse and brooding). Nobre´s language is fully contemporary, in the wake of compositional techniques associated with Penderecki, Ligeti, Lutoslawski (one of the composer´s avowed influences) and the avant-garde of the 1970s (including passages of controlled aleatoric playing). But, as with these composers, those contemporary techniques and language are put at the service of a fascinating coloristic invention and strong dramatic impact. Whiffts of guitar in ‘IN MEMORIAM’ (1976), a passage with exotic percussion in the 1970 MOSAICO (coming in a movement of unleashed percussive violence), the rhythmic pulse and the subtle ‘tropical forest’ sounds of RHYTHMETRON of percussion (1968) and the fusion of a pointillistic, twelve-tone compositional technique and Brazilian percussion instruments and rhythms in the early RHYTHMICAL VARIATIONS remind you of Nobre´s Brazilian origin, but the pieces aren´t ‘ethnic’ or ‘folksy’. CONCERTO BREVE from 1969 is an extraordinary work exploring every way of developing the simplest musical element – the pitch A. But it is not just a dry ‘exercice de style’, it is a highly evocative, coloristic and dramatic composition, whith the piano often playing in its highest ranges so as to merge with the percussion instruments – ONE OF THE MOST STRIKING PIANO CONCERTOS WRITTEN IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE 20TH CENTURY, a genre so trodden since Mozart that it is difficult to renew.
The most traditionally -molded and based on clear melodic motives – possibly because it was composed for a ballet company – is in fact this very CONVERGENCIAS (1968) which attracted me to Nobre in the first place. In it I hear echoes of another of the composer´s avowed influences: Bartok (both in the broading introduction of rising intensity, reminiscent of the Hungarian composer´s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta and in the following romp, harking back to the Miraculous Mandarim but also to Stranvinsky´s Sacre, to Roussel´s ballets of to Villa-Lobos). But this impression also has to do with the way Nobre conducts his own piece. The other version mentioned hereabove is, in these two sections at least, less spacious. Very informative liner notes, including a long statement of his musical beliefs by Nobre himself, but the translations of the sung tests (original in Brazilian) aren´t given, unfortunately.

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