P1166. GUIOMAR NOVAËS: The Complete Published 78-rpm Recordings, incl.Gluck, Bach, Couperin, Scarlatti, Daquin, Guarnieri, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Moszkowski, Rubinstein, Paderewski, Philipp, Lévy, MacDowell, Albéniz, Strauss, Ibert, Villa-Lobos, Mompou, Pinto & Gottschalk. (France) 2–APR 6015, recorded 1919-47, Victor & Columbia. Transfers by Seth B. Winner. - 5024709160150
“Brazilian piano artistry had in Guiomar Novaës (1895-1979) a special talent, nurtured in her native culture in the manner similar to what Monique Haas meant to French music, a rarified sensibility that held a unique, exportable flavor. Editor and producer Seth B. Winner assembles those early recordings by Novaës, for RCA and Columbia, respectively, that have remained most precious to her admirers, mostly miniatures and character pieces that respond well to her touch, phrasing, and spontaneous gift for musical nuance.
Disc one begins and ends with, respectively, an acoustic (1920 and 1923) and electrical (1927) reading of Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s splashy 1869 ‘Grande fantasie’, presented by Novaës in such bold colors in the prior inscription that the acoustic process barely contains her scintillating upper registers, oceanic tremolos, and explosive chords. The electrical process allows the ringing flamboyance of the work a fuller sonic breadth. A music-box sonority graces Novaës’ Gluck ‘The Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ (1923), rife with lustrous jeu perle. Novaës’ realization of the Brahms arrangement of the Gavotte in A (1920) steps lightly and artfully, setting itself next to those inscriptions by Hofmann and Ney as a rendition of choice. Anton Rubinstein’s Nocturne in G, Op. 75, #8 (1923) at first seems to beckon to Chopin’s A-flat Ballade, then goes its own way with a series of parlando runs. The Nocturne in B-flat Major, Op. 16, #4 of Paderewski (1920) offers a more lilted intimacy. A real moment of Polish pride emerges in Chopin’s Mazurka in D (1920), every national measure confident in its metric propulsion.
If we recall that Novaës’ idol remained her teacher Isidor Philipp (1863-1958), we maintain a surer paradigm of her dominant ethos, which embraced Hungarian, German, Iberian, and Brazilian repertory with uncanny sympathy. The two Liszt concert études, ‘Gnomenreigen’ and ‘Waldesrauschen’ (1923), exhibit a fleet, diaphanous touch and brilliant dexterity on a thoroughly bravura level, again competitive with the likes of Hofmann and Kentner. Philipp the composer has a brief tribute in the form of his’Feux-Follets’, Op. 24, #3 (1919 and 1947, for Columbia), whose succession of misty double notes, fluttering arpeggios, and ravishing left hand chords does her mentor proud, and played even faster in 1947. The same epithets apply to Novaës’ stunning ‘Hexentanz’ (1923) of MacDowell. The last of the acoustic records, the 1920 inscription of Alexandre Lévy’s ‘Tango Brasiliero’, speaks volumes of idiosyncratic national colors. 8 April, 1927 proffers five electrical recordings for RCA, beginning with a sultry ‘Tango’ by Albéniz (arr. Godowsky). Thin wisps of rain or liquid magic rule in Godowsky’s transcription of the Richard Strauss ‘Ständchen’. Heitor Villa-Lobos, whose music will feature more overtly in 1947, has a quicksilver etude in ‘O Polichinello’. From his HISTOIRES, Jacques Ibert’s ‘The Little White Donkey’ generates a plastic wit similar to what we know from Debussy; so much more the pity that Novaës did not record that French master, whom Philipp had known and represented well.
Disc two, having first proferred a liquid ‘Feux-Follets’ of Philipp, proceeds to the alluring nocturne by Mompou, ‘Jeunes filles au jardin’ from his suite of CHILDREN’S SCENES. Novaës then indulges her capacities in the Baroque modality (29 March 1940) with lightly brittle sonatas by D. Scarlatti. The cascades of repeated notes of the G Major breeze by in enchanted flurries. François Couperin benefits from the dignified rendition of his ‘La tendre Nanette’, in which Novaës’ keyboard approaches the harpsichord sonority without undue mannerism. A minor whirlwind, Daquin’s ‘L’Hirondelle’ scampers by in etude touches. The major entry in this Baroque excursion, Bach’s D Major Toccata, BWV 912 (12 November 1946), adds a Mediterranean fluency and agile grace to a genre usually dominated by the likes of Edwin Fischer.
Novaës assumes a fascinating balance in her approach to Mozart’s Rondo in a minor, K. 511 (2 July 1941), a cross of empfindsamkeit and rococo sensibilities, ornamental and emotional, at once. Swishy shellacs (22 November 1946) do not too much detract from Novaës’ lyrical sway with Chopin’s A-flat Ballade, whose various voice registers consistently complement each other, the galloping episodes’ gaining a tenderly ineluctable power without having resorted to ‘percussion’. We hear the lithe sonorities of Gluck via the bravura of Saint-Saäns, with the ‘Caprice on Airs’ from the ballet from the opera ALCESTE (3 January 1947), a polished display of detached chords, alla musette, and expressive ornaments. The major commitment to aspects of Villa-Lobos’ opera, 1940 and 1946, has Novaës’ traversals of various suites that exploit folk melodies and ethnic rhythms, much in the manner of Bartók and Kodály’s supple work with Hungarian music. The melodic side of this music, however, likely makes a better analogy with Robert Schumann. Novaës then pays homage to her composer-husband, Octavio Pinto (1890-1950) with five MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD, again a Brazilian incarnation of Schumann’s childlike capacity for wonder in simplicity but colored by Debussy syntax.
Camargo Guarnieri composed his wicked ‘Toccata’ (20 February 1947) specifically for Novaës’ rapid leggierissimo, cast in murderous double notes. The two excerpts from the Albéniz IBÉRIA Suite (6 February 1941) immediately have us comparing her to Alicia de Larrocha by way of a model of interpretive excellence, warm, ripe, and rhythmically subtle in the distribution of perpetually magical colors. Novaës fulfills each of Debussy’s claims for her having ‘…the qualities of a great artist…and the power of complete inner concentration which is a characteristic so rare in artists’.”
—Gary Lemco, AUDIOPHILE AUDITION, 10 January, 2015
"Novaës’ playing was never cut and dried….she seldom played the same piece of music twice the same way. Each time, she brought to it a slightly different point of view, and each time the new approach seemed perfectly natural and inevitable….Part of her appeal was in her natural approach to the keyboard. She was one of the new pianists about whom one felt that the instrument was a welded extension of her arms and fingers. A more natural, relaxed, effortless style could not be found anywhere. Her tone, in its color and subtlety, recalled the magic note-spinning of the great romantic pianists three generations [before her], in which Novaës [had been] trained.”
- Harold C. Schonberg, THE GREAT PIANISTS, 1987 Edition, pp.408-09