Naxos has launched a major new recording project aimed at familiarising the rest of the world with the rich musical history of Brazil. Announcing the five-year series at Carnegie Hall in New York, as well at events in London, Berlin and Tokyo, the label described a commitment to present over 100 works by 12 composers spread across more than 30 CDs.

NaxosMinas Gerais Philharmonic

The aim of “The Music of Brazil” is to demonstrate that “Villas Lobos was not an isolated case,” according to Ambassador Enio Cordeiro, the Brazilian Consul General, who introduced the launch event in New York. Raymond Bisha, Naxos of America and Canada Senior Vice President of Marketing, went on to explain how thrilled he had been to look at a list of names, most of whom were unfamiliar to him. Collectors would be delighted to learn, he said, that most of the music has not previously been available outside of Brazil, while many of the works will be world premieres on disc.

“The project is a continuation of my longstanding interest in the classical music of Brazil,” wrote Klaus Heymann, President and Founder of Naxos. “The Naxos catalogue already has more than one hundred albums featuring Brazilian music, including the award-winning ‘Complete Symphonies of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra that were released between 2011 and 2017. It is with great pleasure that we announce this new Naxos project that continues our exploration of Brazil’s great musical heritage.”

The work of bringing this repertoire to the world has fallen on the shoulders of the Brazilian Academy of Music in conjunction with three orchestras: the Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra, the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, whose artistic directors have chosen the rep in conjunction with the Brazilian Cultural Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The first release features music by Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920), a late-Romantic whose skillful Symphony in G Minor plays with form rather than any idea of exotic content, and although it clearly owes a debt to Brahms and Schumann, it can happily stand on its own merits. Later, Nepomuceno would develop into one of his country’s pioneers when it came to incorporating folk elements into his later compositions, albeit more in the manner of Dvořák than, say, Bartók, as demonstrated by the genial suite Série Brasileira included in the album. Doing the inaugural honours are the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra led by music director and principal conductor and Brazilian musical evangelist Fabio Mechetti.

Other planned releases include music by a plethora of little-known composers including symphonies by César Guerra-Peixe (1914-1993), Cláudio Santoro (1919-1989) – for the first time, all 14 symphonies! – Lorenzo Fernandez (1897-1948) and Henrique Oswald (1852-1931), as well as the complete opera overtures and preludes by bel canto composer Antônio Carlos Gomes (1836-1896) and works for piano, orchestra and choir by the elaborately named José Antônio Resende de Almeida Prado (1943-2010). Candomblé, a  substantial oratorio for soloists, choirs and percussion ensemble by José Siqueira (1907-1985) will also be recorded. On slightly more familiar territory, there will be release featuring Villa-Lobos (his complete piano and cello concertos) as well as works by Guarnieri (for the first time, all seven of his Villa-Lobos-inspired Choros for solo instruments and orchestra) and Mignone (his four colourful Fantasias Brasileiras, plus concertos and concertinos for guitar, violin clarinet and bassoon).

The New York launch also featured a barnstorming recital of music by Villa-Lobos, Oswald, Nepomuceno, Guarnieri and Gottshalk, played by the impressively focussed virtuoso Pablo Rossi, winner of the First Nelson Freire National Competition for New Brazilian Talents in 2003. Even world-renowned Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire was cheering for the home team: “It is a ground-breaking project, which will contribute to making Brazilian classical music more widely known and appreciated in the world,” he said in a statement.

“We have always cultivated and promoted Brazilian music, presenting, recording and editing works by our composers, past and present. Now this project will become a reference for the Brazilian repertoire, which can be played worldwide from now on,” said São Paulo Symphony Orchestra artistic director Arthur Nestrovski, summing up the series.

The music of Alberto Nepomuceno will be reviewed in the July issue of Limelight.