Nelson Freire Pays Tribute to Native Country with 'Brasileiro'

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Is Brazil the next major classical music hotbed waiting to be rediscovered? In modern times, we’ve seen composers from countries such as Finland, Denmark and Latvia rise up the food chain to earn their rightful place beside those of Germany, Austria and France. But perhaps because Latin-American composers have written such a vast range of music, it’s easier to sidestep rather than face this overwhelming catalog point by point.

Fortunately, Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire is tackling the musical output of his native country with renewed zest. “Brasileiro” offers a finely chosen cross-section of Brazilian piano compositions that take their cue from traditional dance and song, most of which were composed in the period between roughly 1890 and 1960. It spans three generations of composers and there’s a lot here besides the standard-bearer, Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Freire was born in Boa Esperança, Brazil, and moved to Rio de Janeiro at the age of six. Within a few years, as bossa nova and samba began taking the world by storm, Freire was becoming the country’s rising classical star, winning the prestigious Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition in 1957. Several works on this recording represent milestones in his musical development, including Barrozo Netto’s Minha Terra ("My Country"), Alexandre Levy’s Tango Brasileiro and Henrique Oswald’s Valse lente - all of which he played as a child. Cláudio Santoro's Toccata was composed in 1955 and Freire performed it two years later at the Rio competition.

Villa-Lobos gets pride of place for obvious reasons. Freire begins with his suite Carnaval das Crianças (Children’s Carnival), and continues on to some of the composer’s most important piano pieces – the Choros No. 5 (“Alma Brasileira”) and Valsa da Dor (Waltz of Grief) and New York Skyline, which was composed by superimposing a photo of Manhattan on a piece of graph paper.

Although Freire has seldom devoted much of his career to the works of his homeland, he makes up for lost time on this collection, showing a natural feel for the Latin rhythms and colors.

Nelson Freire
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