SOUL OF BRAZILA Tribute to the Piano Music of Heitor Villa-Lobos
MARTHA MARCHENA, piano
"This recording of Villa-Lobos music shows Marchena to be in full command of the keyboard, a full-bodied sounding Steinway D concert grand... [In Savage Poem] Marchena is masterful at weaving these elements together into an exciting pastiche of sound and fury... [In Bachianas brasileiras] Marchena leans in where the music allows and creates a fine atmosphere supported by the full-sounding Steinway... Marchena presents it with consummate skill and integrity. The recording is very good, with a judicious balance of direct and hall sound."
Mark Novak, Fanfare [January/February 2023]
"Martha Marchena plays this extraordinarily varied music with great panache and deep affection. Highly recommended."
Peter Burwasser, Fanfare [November/December 2022]
"Marchena is thoroughly at home with the changing sounds and rhythms throughout this work, and indeed throughout the entire CD. Villa-Lobos’ piano music is not especially well-known, but it deserves more currency than it tends to receive, and Marchena makes an impressive case for all the pieces she presents on a disc that is also distinguished by being well-recorded to display the full and elegant tone of the specific instrument that the pianist uses here."
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [June 2022]
"The MSR recording 'Soul of Brazil,' matching the genius of composer Heitor Villa-Lobos with the insightful, skillful and talented pianism of Martha Marchena is among them. Marchena in a tour de force rendition of five Villa-Lobos pieces draws every bit of emotion, power, drama and poetry out of them in a bravura performance. Time stops while we succumb to the passion, fire, eloquence and grandeur expressed by Marchena while she reveals why Villa-Lobos, largely self-taught, became one of the greatest composers of the 20th century."
Joel C. Thompson, Cherry Grove Music Review [June 2022]
"Martha Marchena, a native of Cuba who studied at the National School of Art in Havana and went on to receive a DMA in piano performance and music from the University of Miami, shows all that musicality, and more, in Soul of Brazil... Marchena brings all of her insights, as scholar and performing artist, allied with a strong natural affinity for Villa-Lobos, into play in giving us a vivid glimpse into the restless mind and heart of a great composer who was also something of a bohemian. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to get acquainted with this intriguing figure."
Phil Muse, Atlanta Audio Society [July 2022]
“Her deep involvement with each work and her knack for finding and recreating its essence establishes her as the formidable pianist she is... Romance, rhythm, and color are delivered with unerring rightness by Marchena”
PROGRAM NOTESAfter a long parentheses, Cuban-American pianist Martha Marchena returns to play as beautifully as her vast array of followers are accustomed to. The medium she selects to use is a new recording; the music she interprets is by Heitor Villa-Lobos, a composer dear to her, and the subject of her doctoral thesis. The prolific Villa-Lobos left us with many piano works, some grouped in cycles, like Carnaval das crianças (1919-1920) and A Prole do Bebê (1918-1921) while others standing alone, like Bailado infernal (1920) or the iconic Rudepoêma (1921-1926). These diverse works offer Marchena an opportunity to make her re-appearance a golden reminder of her gifts: again her magic touch when delivering a melody; again her ability to transform brutal force into an awesome fiery musical moment; again her first-rate musicianship that flexes to and fro, transforming some of Villa-Lobos’ repetitive passages to be transformed into delightful structures. Marchena’s comeback is a resplendent one. Her bestowal of the Villa-Lobos piano works she picks for her return is received today with joy. For the older members of her followers, this new recording is a gorgeous giveaway; for the younger listener the bequest is even bigger, for it delivers a wondrous panoply of luminous sound. For everyone, simply enjoy the legacy! Aurelio de la Vega (Northridge, California; October 2021)
After 1905, using the proceeds from the sale of his father’s library, Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) traveled widely. Considered “the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music” (Gerard Béhague), the composer was introduced to the rudiments of music by his father, a writer and amateur musician, who also supported his learning to play instruments. During Villa-Lobos’ childhood, Brazil experienced important social changes, including modernization, the abolishment of slavery in 1888 and overthrowing the Empire of Brazil the following year. These changes were reflected in the country’s musical life, which had been grounded in the European tradition of counterpoint and harmony. Villa-Lobos was expected by his family to study medicine, but he preferred the bohemian life of the city’s popular musicians in Brazil, supporting himself by working as a musician on the popular music scene. After some time, he enrolled at the National Institute of Rio de Janeiro, studying cello with Bermo Niederberger, but the discipline of academic life was disagreeable to him, and his stay at the Institute was short. Nevertheless, Villa-Lobos was already very productive, having written numerous compositions. In 1918, in Rio de Janeiro, he met the renowned concert pianist Arthur Rubinstein and French composer Darius Milhaud. Through them, Villa-Lobos was introduced to the music of Claude Debussy, which proved to be a revelation. In response, he composed Prole do Bebe No.1, and other works, which used numerous French impressionistic techniques combined with new compositional devices of his own. Rubinstein performed Prole do Bebe in Rio de Janeiro on 7 May 1922 to much acclaim, which did much to enhance Villa-Lobos’ esteem among the cognoscenti. Shortly thereafter, Villa-Lobos received financial support for further studies and left for Europe where he spent seven years in Paris, where the new trend of neo-classical composition inspired him to compose many of his best-known works. During this time, Villa-Lobos developed a new and very personal musical language, rooted in the folk idioms of Brazil, embracing traditional forms and techniques, but incorporating the impressionistic techniques of the new French school. The eleven Choros for different instrumental combinations as well as Bachianas Brasileiras and Rudepoêma for piano all come from this period, testifying to his genius. During these years, the temperamental and bohemian Villa-Lobos had become a consummate artist and was appointed by the Brazilian government to be responsible for the musical education for all of Brazil in a program designed for the masses. In 1942, he organized the Conservatory under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, and in 1945 the Brazilian Academy of Music, both in Rio de Janeiro. Villa-Lobos’s creative output was vast and covered many musical genres, including opera, oratorio, symphony, symphonic poem, concerto, quartets, trios, sonata, choral works, pieces for solo instruments and songs with accompaniment.
Martha Marchena has inspired audiences worldwide with her broad repertoire and captivating performances for decades. Born in Cuba, Marchena graduated with honors from the University of Miami’s doctoral program, where she wrote her dissertation on the piano works of Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos. A versatile artist, she has performed as a soloist with orchestras and chamber music ensembles worldwide. Noted for the originality of her programming, critics have also praised her interpretations for their emotional impact. Marchena is often praised for her ambitious and refreshing choice of repertoire in contemporary music, as well as her expertise in Latin American piano music, with a special focus on lesser-known composers. She has been invited to perform in major international music festivals, including the Encuentros Festival in Buenos Aires, International Contemporary Music Festival in San Salvador, Festival Internacional de Musica Contemporanea in Cuba, Festival Internacional de las Artes, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Fiesta Iberoamericana de las Artes, Puerto Rico, Latin American Music Festival in Caracas, and Opera Barga Festival in Italy. Marchena also maintained a rigorous academic profile as a professor in the Music Department at Kean University in New Jersey. She has participated in many residencies, given master classes, lectured, and performed recitals worldwide, bridging Latin and South American music and women studies. Marchena has been an adjudicator for international competitions including the International Piano Competition Prize Jaen, was named President of the First Ibero-American Piano Competition in Santo Domingo in 2010 and was selected by the General Society of Authors and Editors of Spain to perform at the IV Ibero-American Music Prize in Sao Paulo, Brazil. From 2007 to 2010, she was a panelist in the piano committee for the National Fulbright Award, and in 2001 received the Hispanic Caucus Latino Cultural Arts Award from the American Association for Higher Education. She has also received grants from the Fund for U.S Artists at International Festivals and Exhibitions by the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Active as a recording artist, she can be heard on several albums focused on Latin-American influenced music, which received accolades from international music publications, including Gramophone, Fanfare, American Record Guide, Piano Magazine and Latin American Music Review.
Martha Marchena dedicates this album to Ricardo Viera.
PROGRAMHEITOR VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
ALMA BRASILEIRA – Choros No.5 (Soul of Brazil) (1925)
RUDEPOÊMA (Savage Poem) (1921-1926)
VALSA DA DOR (Waltz of Sorrow) (1932)
BACHIANAS BRASILEIRAS NO.4 (1930-1941)
I. Prelude – Introdução (Prelude)
II. Coral – Canto do Sertão (Song of the Jungle)
III. Aria – Cantiga (Song)
IV. Dance – Miudinho (Dance)
CICLO BRASILEIRO (Brazilian Cycle) (1936-1937)
I. Plantio do Caboclo (Native Planting Song)
II. Impressões Seresteiras (Minstrel Impressions)
III. Festa No Sertão (Jungle Festival)
IV. Dansa do Indio Branco (Dance of the White Indian)
Recorded 30-31 January 2017 at the Gene and Shelley Enlow Recital Hall at Kean University, Union, New Jersey. Produced, engineered, mixed by Andrew Bove. Edited by Andrew Bove and Mario Correa. Mastered by Richard Price, Candlewood Digital.