Albert Nepomuceno symphony launches new Brazilian music series

This release launches a new series from Naxos — the Music of Brazil. Working with three Brazilian orchestras, Naxos will record about 100 works by native composers. It should be a phenomenal and revelatory cycle. That’s my impression after hearing this first release of music by Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920).

It’s a logical place to start. Nepomuceno was one of the first composers to blend Brazilian traditional music with classical forms. He was a friend and colleague of Edvard Grieg, and his music shares some similarities.

Nepomuceno writes in a very clear, economic style. His use of Brazilian musical elements is organic, which makes the works recorded here so successful. Another plus is the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Brazilian conductor Fabio Mechetti. Like a Czech orchestra performing Dvorak, they understand the subtext of music in a way a non-native orchestra couldn’t. The orchestra’s performances give these works an extra spark that’s hard to define, but easy to hear.

Nepomuceno’s 1893 Symphony in G minor follows a Brahmsian model. The four-movement work lays out its themes and develops them in a logical fashion. But this isn’t Brahms. Nepomuceno’s strong rhythms and distinctive melodies give it a distinctly Brazilian character.

The 1891 Série Brasileira brings Nepomuceno’s heritage to the fore. Each movement uses folk elements from different parts of Brazil. The first movement is based on an Amazonian theme and the second based on the Brazilian tango (maxixe). the third movement references Northeastern Brazilian music and the finale the batuque dance of southern Brazil.

It’s Nepomuceno’s most popular work. While the folk elements make it naturally appealing, Fabio Mechetti goes beneath the surface. Under his direction, the Minas Gerais Philharmonic brings out the full richness of Neopmuceno’s orchestrations. It turns the work from a set of orchestrated folk songs to an orchestral work incorporating folk elements.

In Brazil, Alberto Nepomuceno is a national treasure. This release helps listeners outside the country understand why.

Alberto Nepomuceno: Symphony in G minor; O Garatuja; Prelude; Série Brasileira
Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra; Fabio Mechetti, conductor
Naxos 8.574067

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