"Chopin" with a Brazilian Beat... and German Accent

Copyright © by Fred Flaxman, 1997.

When it came to buying records or tapes, I could afford to be a gambler. I'd fork out up to $7 to hear an LP of music by Schmolowitz simply because I've never heard of him and felt compelled to find out whether his music sounded as ridiculous as his name.

But at the $15 a crack price tag for a typical classical compact disc, I have to be more cautious. I'm not affluent enough to spend that kind of money on something I'll listen to only once. Fortunately, my local public library has a growing collection of CDs I can borrow without any financial risk. CDs are ideal for this purpose since they stand up much better than LPs to careless handling and cannot be ruined by bad playing equipment.

That's how I got to know Brazilian Tangos and Waltzes by Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934), performed by pianist Arthur Moreira Lima on a ProArte CD (CDD144). The only Nazareth I had ever heard of was the Jesus-of kind; and I associated Lima with Peru or beans, depending on how you pronounced it. I checked this CD out just because the title grabbed me, and I was bowled over by both Nazareth and Lima from the very first hearing.

This is one of those rare collections of piano pieces that are immediately accessible and yet wear well with repeated playing. The music sounds like a cross between Chopin and Scott Joplin -- set to a Brazilian beat. The pianist, a Moscow-trained Brazilian, is fantastic -- clear, powerful, technically brilliant. And this recording reproduces the piano as well as I've ever heard it done. It sounds just like the one in my living room would sound if only I could play like Lima.

ProArte has issued a second CD of Brazilian Dances performed by Lima (CDD312), and more than half of them are by Nazareth. These are as beautiful and as fun-filled as the ones on the first disc. But the pieces by several of the other composers are much more contemporary and don't fit in well with those by Nazareth. I wish this second CD had been devoted entirely to Nazareth, who was very prolific (though he wrote only for the piano), and that a third CD had been created with Lima playing dances by other Brazilian composers.

The other pieces on this CD include the most famous (to Americans, at least) Brazilian tango ever written: "Tico-Tico no fuba" by da Arbeau. You may not recognize the names of the composer or the piece, but I'm sure you'd find the music very familiar. And Lima's interpretation makes this popular classic more exciting than ever.

Speaking of composers who sound like Chopin, have you ever heard of Johann Nepomuk Hummel? Well, now you have, and it's a great name to bring up if you ever get stumped for small talk at a cocktail party. Hummel (1778-1837) sounds like a cross between Mozart and Chopin. He came on the musical scene right between those two much more famous men. Mozart, in fact, was one of his teachers.

Your respect for old Nepomuk increases dramatically when you realize that he wrote his piano concertos before Chopin ever dreamed of his -- not the other way around. So Hummel may well deserve some of the credit for originality that Chopin has been garnering all these years.

Musical Heritage Society has issued a CD of two Hummel Piano Concertos (MHS 512071K) very competently executed by British pianist Stephen Hough with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson. The all-digital disc, which lasts more than an hour, is first class in every respect except for the conventionally-designed, cheap-looking, black and white cover of the well-annotated brochure.

Recordings of the Musical Heritage Society, incidentally, are available only by mail to members of the Society (write 1710 Highway 35, Ocean, NJ 07712). Their prices are competitive and they are one of the best sources I know of for off-the-beaten track pieces which have been unjustifiably neglected.

If you think you'd enjoy your "Chopin" with a Brazilian beat or a German accent, these CDs should be in your collection.

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