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
“When Guiomar Novaes, the Brazilian who was known as one the foremost pianists of her time, made her American debut Nov. 11, 1915, New York music critics found it incredible that the tiny 21year old woman could produce such a big and beautiful tone from a concert grand piano that seemed to dwarf her. ‘More inspired playing has never been heard in Aeolian Hall, and Aeolian Hall audiences have heard all the foremost pianists of the time, including Paderewski’, one reviewer wrote. She continued to subdue the instrument and to keep the critics enraptured for more than half a century. Her final appearance in New York was in 1972, in a recital at Hunter College.
Miss Novaes was born in the small city of Sao Joao da Boa Vista, near Sao Paulo, the 17th of 19 children of Anna de Menezes Novaes and Manoel da Cruz Novaes. She began to play the piano at the age of 3, and at 4 was playing marches for kindergarten entertainments. The father, a local merchant, was not rich but, with the help of neighbors who recognized her talent, she began formal musical’ training at 7. When she was 11, the year her father died, she gave her first recital in Sao Paulo and thereafter appeared often in public. After a farewell concert at 14, Miss Novaes left for Paris, armed with a grant from the Brazilian Government for four years of study abroad.
In Paris, her success was immediate and remarkable. Among the jurors who admitted her to the Paris Conservatory were Fauré, Debussy and Moszkowski. Debussy later wrote of her, ‘She has all the qualities of a great artist, eyes that are transported by music, and the power of complete inner concentration, which is a characteristic so rare in artists’. Two years after her arrival in France she won the Conservatory's coveted first prize, over a field of nearly 400 other musicians. At the conservatory, she studied with Isidor Philipp, the renowned piano teacher.
Miss Novaes, throughout her long and distinguished career, was famed as a colorist and as an intuitive pianist rather than an intellectual one in the modern mode. Her approach to music was said to be invariably elegant, poetic and intensely individual in her interpretations. ‘Miss Novaes is the most personal of pianists’, one critic wrote. ‘She does things her own way; she makes her own rules….but she has the authority and the music instinct to remain utterly convincing’. Her technique was described as formidable, and enhanced by a robust, singing tone. The Romantic composers were felt to be her forte, such works as Schumann's Concerto and ‘Carnaval’ being particular favorites of her audiences. But for her awn pleasure, she said, it was Bach and Mozart. ‘Actually, I don't prefer the 19th century’, she once remarked.
Nevertheless, she was regarded as one of the supreme Chopinists of her time. ‘Somebody gave me a very early daguerrotype of Chopin as he looked just before he died’, she said. ‘There is much tragedy in the man's face, especially in his face. It haunts me every time I play his music’.
Miss Novaes was a handsome woman whose stage bearing was shy but quietly aristocratic. She was not known for agonizing over her art. Early in her career she remarked: ‘All my life everything has come to me without struggle. Art for some is drudgery. For me it is the greatest joy. Well, I shall play better next year. I wish to give back all that life gives to me’.
She was married at age 25 to Octavio Pinto, a wealthy Brazilian civil engineer who also was a composer and a pianist. Miss Novaes often performed his ‘Scenes From Childhood’ in her recitals. In the Romantic tradition, he had admired her from afar since she had been 13. Their courtship began with an exchange of unsigned post cards, on each of which was written the musical notation of one measure by a famous composer. Mr. Pinto sent the first one, a Beethoven phrase. She answered with a measure of Brahms. ‘It was a great surprise that Octavio might be more interested in me than my playing’, she recalled later. She went home to Brazil to be married, taking three pianos along with her on the ship. The couple had two Children, Luiz Octavio, who became an engineer, and Anna Maria, who became a singer. Mr. Pinto died in 1950, and Miss Novaes did not remarry.
She was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, and her many Brazilian honors included the Prize of Merit, awarded by the country's president.”
- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 March, 1979