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on 2 April 2013
I guess that Miss Ortiz learned these five concertos in dutiful hommage to her compatriot, Villa-Lobos. But, to me, although they may have some moderately interesting virtuoso piano writing and noisy and brash orchestral passages, the concerti as a whole seemed pointless and unstructured. I have been fascinated by some of Villa-Lobos's purely orchestral works, but the present works were a disapointment.
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on 20 July 2001
Cristina Ortiz is no newcomer to Villa-Lobos, neither is Martinez to Latin Amnerican music. The two form a powerful combination with the RPO to produce very fine recordings. The near-absence of previous recordings allows no useful comparison but judging against Villa-Lobos as a whole, and much piano music (with or without orchestra) is now on record) Ortiz and co. stand out brilliantly.
Villa-Lobos fans will have long had this set but for newcomers, the works seem to stand part way between his formal symphonic works and the more rhapsodic style found in his "tone poems" (if I may be forgiven the phrase!). You will hear echoes of Rachmaninov in the pianistic style but you are never far from Villa-Lobos. They are perhaps not his easiest works to start with but they provide a good panorama of his concertante writing and more fulfilling than his (more popular) Guitar Concerto.
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In 1976-1977, Cristina Ortiz recorded two works for piano and orchestra by Villa-Lobos (Mômoprecóce & Bachianas Brasileiras No. 3) for EMI with the New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, in what was one of his earliest recordings as a conductor. Both works are inventive, and so too (though perhaps to a lesser extent) is the Chôros No. 11, at over an hour the composer's longest work for piano and orchestra, which Ortiz recorded in 2006 for BIS. The five concertos on this Decca 2CD set were composed later (from 1945-1957) but are likely to disappoint anyone who has enjoyed the three earlier works and expects to find here a comparable level of inspiration.

Music lovers who assume that 'structure' in music is a consideration only for specialist academics and not for laymen, can correct themselves of this delusion by listening to these rambling scores, in which the composer drifts aimlessly with no sense of direction from one musical idea to the next. The concertos are pleasant to listen to, and they contain a few striking moments (I particularly liked the ending of the second movement of the Fourth Concerto) but the impression is of compositional doodling with no pre-planning. Cuts could probably be made just about anywhere without adversely affecting the music, and even if passages were rearranged in order or even transferred from one concerto to another I doubt whether it would make any significant difference as the undistinguished musical waffle tends to be similar in all five.

All five concertos end in C major, and have four movements. The keyboard writing throughout disingenuously tries to give a superficial effect of impressive 'bravura' but the piano parts consist mainly of "fake virtuosity" in which conventional sight-readable figurations that lie conveniently under the hand are used constantly. Much of the harmonic spice in the piano parts is dictated by these facile keyboard figurations, and the composer's reliance on these routine tricks limits textural variety; I particularly tire of hearing double-octave lines. The composer also relies on sequential passages, apparently biding his time until the next musical idea turns up. Sometimes the result is interesting (for example the beautiful lyrical sequential passage starting at 5'33" in the first movement of the First Concerto) but usually the impression is of redundant padding. If there is any genuine compositional discourse (thematic development rather than repetition), let alone structure, I have not detected it.

These performances, well recorded in 1989-1990 in the fine acoustic of London's Walthamstow Assembly Hall, seem to me to offer the best possible advocacy for these concertos, and the booklet notes have been contributed by Simon Wright, a leading expert on the composer, but it is the music itself that leaves me unconvinced, wondering whether Villa-Lobos has subconsciously merely composed the same rhapsodic piano concerto five times.
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Villa-Lobos wrote very difficult and inspired solo piano works, promoted mainly by A.Rubinstein, and the amazingly original string quartets which deserve more performances. His 5 piano concertos are, on the other hand, more approachable and in line with Romantic piano concerto tradition. Christia Ortiz' playing is brilliant throughout, if not as outstanding as her Shostakovich recordings on EMI.
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on 18 April 2014
I am very new to Villa-Lobos' music but was attracted to this recording of his five Piano Concertos because Cristina Ortiz is the soloist on them with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. She recorded the Warsaw Concerto with the RPO in 1984 for Decca and that remains one of my treasured possessions. So I was interested to see what other recordings she had done and being Brazilian it was only natural for her to record music of Brazil's most famous composer. She recorded his five Piano Concertos in 1989/90 for Decca and again the Orchestra was the RPO conducted by Miguel Gomez-Martinez. Miss Ortiz plays them all wonderfully with a strong rich accompaniment by the RPO and my favourites are Piano Concertos 4 and 5. In particular Ortiz's playing of the cadenza in the third movement of the Piano Concerto No.4 is a revelation. But I can safely say all of these Piano Concertos by Villa-Lobos are a delight to listen to. There are no big tunes like those in Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos but yet they are very entertaining and very easy to listen to. I can strongly recommend them to you.
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