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“Sweeter than Roses” – English and Italian songs of the joys of love by Purcell, Britten, Mozart, Sondheim incl. “My Fair Lady”

DATE: Sunday, 25 April 2010

TIME: 15:00 – 16:30

VENUE: Masque Theatre – 37 Main Road, Muizenberg

BOOKING DETAILS: 021 – 788 1898 (Mon. to Fri. 09:00 to 16:00)

TICKETS: R60 (R50 Theatre Club members – regrettably no Credit Card Bookings available)

“Sweeter than Roses” – English and Italian songs of the joys of love by Purcell, Britten, Mozart, Sondheim incl. “My Fair Lady”
This delightful programme of mostly English songs explores the joys and dreams of young lovers through the songs of Purcell (“If music be the food of love”), Britten’s famous Folksong settings (“The Foggy, foggy dew”) and operatic extracts by Mozart, that master of comic characterisation. The three singers and pianist are all noted for their variety and perform in different styles, taking the audience through a tale of love lost, found and lost again. Shirley Sutherland will lead the second half of the programme with extracts from “My Fair Lady”, the show in which she had a major triumph at the Artscape Theatre in 2008. Louise Howlett, a veteran stage performer, will include extracts from her soon-to-be released second CD from the musicals “Cats” and “A Little Night Music”. Baritone John Hardie – winner of various awards such as the Leonard Hall Memorial Prize – is the perfect foil for the two ladies. He will be the Figaro to their Suzanna and Cherubino and the Don Giovanni to their Zerlinas. The programme will reflect the more playful aspect of young love, from the charm and beauty of setting of Shakespeare to more contemporary and popular music. The fact that most of the songs are in English makes this a programme with instant appeal for audiences of all ages. The keyword is variety, and versatility is what this set of performers are known for.

Meet the perfromers

Pianist and presenter Albert Combrink

Pianist Albert Combrink devised and compiled the programme as well making musical arrangements and accompanying the singers. He has worked as accompanist and musical director from the opera house to the musicals stage. Magic Flute (Isango Portabello) won a London Critics’ Olivier Award and  Assassins (New Space Theatre) won two Fleur du Caps. International arrtists with whom he has worked include American soprano Judith Kellock and British superstar Lesley Garrett. Recordings as orchestral member and soloist with orchestras include works by Hendrik Hofmeyr and Alfred Schnittke with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. His broad interest in music has enabled him to put on a number of off-beat and unusual programmes. These include Ladies & Ladders (Kalfiefees), Dangerous Liaisons (Beau Soleil), and Moonlight Serenade (Kirstenbosch Chamber Music Series) – the latter in collaboration with Louise Howlett). He has been musical director of the Rotary Opera in a Convent Garden since 2007. He is member of the CT Tango Ensemble which recently launched its second CD Tango Club to a sell-out audience at the Baxter Theatre.

Soprano Louise Howlett: equally at home from Bach to Blues

Soprano Louise Howlett studied singing at the Royal College of Music in London, with Margaret Cable. She performed at the Bergen Festival and Edinburgh Main and Fringe Festivals, as well as performing in the award winning production of The Ragged Child at the Sadlers Wells Theatre. Originally classically trained, her love of jazz and the musicals led her to create her own unique combination of classical, broadway and jazz “Across the Styles” projects out of which her “Serenade” series was born.  These productions can vary from classical versions, to jazz standard evenings to the full range of genres blended into one programme. She has performed with great success at various venues and festivals including the Kirstenbosch Winter Chamber Music Series, the Greyton Rose Festival, and most recently at the Baxter Theatre. In one season she performed both in the classical line-up of Barry Smith’s Concert Series at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and at the Big Blues Festival in Kleinmond.

Baritone John  Hardie studied singing at UCT and Stellenbosch University and his teachers include Sarita Stern, Nellie du Toit and Marita Napier. He sang with Capab Opera for 3 years taking part in productions of “Albert Herring” and “Cosi fan Tutte”. He won the College of Music Opera prize in 1988 and 1989, the Friends of the Nico Malan Opera Prize in 1990, the Leonard Hall memorial Prize in 1991. He has performed professionally with accompanists such as Albie van Schalkwyk, Tommy Rajna and Neil Solomon.

Shirley Sutherland entertains in musicals and opera

Soprano Shirley Sutherland has proven her versatility in the fields of Opera, Muiscals and Oratorio. With Cape Town Opera she toured Sweden and Germany in productions of Rusalka, and Showboat. Her many awards include the Cape Times Best Actress Award for her role of Roxy in Chicago. She has been seen in concert around the country, including Richard Cock’s Last Night of the Proms and various oratorios.

Read more about some of the works on the programme on the following posts:

~ Benjamin Britten Folksong (re)settings: when artsong meets folksong

~ Schoenberg to Sondheim: Louise Howlett & Albert Combrink perform at Kirstenbosch

~ Breaking Rules: Discussing performers who cross over different styles and genres

Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink

Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink

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Louise Howlett and I will be performing “Moonlight Serenade” in Kirstenbosch’s Chamber Music Breakfast Concert series on Sunday 19 July 2009, 11 a.m. with Breakfast served from 9.30 a.m.

The programme features various songs inspired by the night, including two songs by Gabriel Fauré: “Après un rêve” and “Mandoline”.

“Mandoline” is a Verlaine setting in which the singer views a party from some distance; wry comments about the attendees are followed by a rhapsodic description of their elegance as they seem to dissolve in the moonlit air. Debussy set it as well, changing the musical material with the mood of the poem, but Fauré does not develop thematically—a quiet, jaunty figure in the piano conjures the title instrument, and a returning rising scale between stanzas directs our view from detail to detail. A contrasting section introduces some whirling arpeggios and delightful dotted rhythms in the voice, to illustrate the turn of the dance.  Fauré chooses just the right key: the mandolin starts to play in the bright key of G major. At the first scene change, the rising scale is suddenly in F#, all the black keys coming into play—”a sudden bit of legerdemain that perfectly captures the swoon of disorientation in the dim light, not to mention the whole affair’s hushed choreography as perceived from without”. (Description courtesy of Matthew)

Mandolin Player: Giovanni Tiepolo (1696-1770)

Mandolin Player: Giovanni Tiepolo (1696-1770)

Les donneurs de sérénades – Poem by Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), set in 1892 as “Mandoline”  by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924):

Les donneurs de sérénades
Et les belles écouteuses
Echangent des propos fades
Sous les ramures chanteuses.

C’est Tircis et c’est Aminte,
Et c’est l’éternel Clitandre,
Et c’est Damis qui pour mainte
Cruelle [fait]1 maint vers tendre.

Leurs courtes vestes de soie,
Leurs longues robes à queues,
Leur élégance, leur joie
Et leurs molles ombres bleues,

Tourbillonent dans l’extase
D’une lune rose et grise,
Et la mandoline jase
Parmi les frissons de brise.

Serenader - Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)

Serenader - Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)

English Translation by Emily Ezust

“The givers of serenades”

The givers of serenades
And the lovely women who listen
Exchange insipid words
Under the singing branches.

There is Thyrsis and Amyntas
And there’s the eternal Clytander,
And there’s Damis who, for many a
Heartless woman, wrote many a tender verse.

Their short silk coats,
Their long dresses with trains,
Their elegance, their joy
And their soft blue shadows,

Whirl around in the ecstasy
Of a pink and grey moon,
And the mandolin prattles
Among the shivers from the breeze.

In poetry, the symbolist procedure – as typified by Verlaine – was to use subtle suggestion instead of precise statement  and to evoke moods and feelings through the magic of words and repeated sounds and the cadence of verse (musicality) and metrical innovation. (Marie Rolf). While Debussy is more redily identified as a “Symbolist” composer, this work by Fauré resonds to the “magic of words and repeated sounds” with the magic of mandolin-like repeated strumming sounds, creating a gently bouncing accompaniment for the text. Here is a recording of a Mandolin, playing a sweet little french song by Georges Villard “La Petite Tonkinoise” , made famous in this charming 1953 version by the delightful Joséphine Baker.

Below are some recordings of “Mandoline”

A very beautiful and unusial version of “Mandoline” by counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky and pianist Jerome Ducros, sung in a vocal coaching session with singing teacher Nicole Fallien.

Joyce Di Donato and Julius Drake give a stylish and elegant performance.

A surprisingly charming performance by Armenian mezzo-soprano Zara Dolukhanova, who uses her colloratura mezzo voice to tremendous effect.

This poem has been set to music by a number of composers including: Claude Debussy, Reynaldo Hahn, Gabriel Grovlez, Josef Szulc and Gabriel Dupont, amongst others.

A different setting of  “Mandoline” by composer Gabriel Dupont, sung by Philippe Jaroussky.

French Poet Paul Verlaine

French Poet Paul Verlaine

More about the poet:

French poet and leader of the Symbolist movement in poetry. Paul Verlaine’s life style wavered between criminality and naive innocence; he married a young girl in 1870 but after a year fell in love with the young poet Arthur Rimbaud, who was seventeen. With Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire he formed the so-called Decadents. In Verlaine’s works two impressions predominate: that only self is important, and that the function of poetry is to preserve moments of extreme sensation and unique impressions. In spite of the ‘vagueness’ of his poetry, Verlaine showed a careful craftsmanship in his compositions, using simple, musical language. He maintained the outward form of classical poetry, but his work opened the way for free verse. The Symbolists would often share themes that parallel Schopenhauer’s aesthetics and notions of will, fatality and unconscious forces, and used themes of sex (such as prostitutes), the city, irrational phenomena (delirium, dreams, narcotics, alcohol), and sometimes a vaguely medieval or Classic setting.

I enjoy performing this song. It has a sweet, innocent charm that is hard to resist. Louise’s response to the text is very alive and tells a tiny little story, like a quick snapshot of a painting, or a world that no longer exists. It does, however, make us feel like “donneurs de sérénades”. And that is pure pleasure!

Gabriel Fauré

Gabriel Fauré

Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink

Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink

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On 19 July 2009 Louise Howlett and I will be performing in the Kirstenbosch Chamber Music Breakfast Concert Series. Our programme reflects Louise’s trademark milti-genre approach to songs inspired by Moonlight. The programme includes songs by Arnold Schoenberg, Faure, Mozart, Bizet, Dvorak, Michel Legrand, and Stephen Sondheim.

The idea of one singer encompassing styles from Mozart to Bernstein strikes some as unusual, but when one respects song for what they are, instead of evaluating them on a system of classification, one  arrives at some interesting insights. My work in the field of Tango, and the music of Piazzolla in particular, as well as recent excursions into Villa-Lobos, has taught me that the distinctions between the terms “Classical”, “Folk”, “Popular”, “World Music” and even “Jazz” are becoming increasingly blurred. Audiences are no longer judging a piece of music on whether it is a “good” classical or popular interpretaion. The demands of the media has made it possible for music-lovers to search out their own favourites. The record companies – just like the movie-moguls – can no longer predict the hits. A certain snobbery from the classical fraternity towards other music forms such as musical theathre, has also left many musicians high-and-dry. And out of work. Especially in South Africa the opera-world is fighting for survival and young musicians simply have to diversify to make a living.

I found some Youtube clips of Stephen Sondheim in masterclasses on his song “Send in the Clowns”  from “A Little Night Music” which reveals him to be as much a perfectionist as many an opera conductor. Louise and I have recorded this song and have worked hard to create an interpreation as honest and pure as a Brahms or Schubert song, but without some of the over-threatrical musical gestures that can so easily ruin this song.

Here is an interview with Sondheim discussing the song “Send in the clowns”. He comments on the emotional impact of the  shortbreathed phrases in this song of anger and regret. He stresses the need to approach performing the song from the text, from a a point of “No Singing” which arrives at the point of singing only when the emotion dictates it.

Sondheim was also a generous instructor in the performance of his material. Here he is teaching a singing student from the Guildhall School in London. And here he is teaching an acting student, also from Guildhall. His attention to expressive diction is clear. He strikes me as a wonderful man, insistent, persitent but kind.

Links to recorded clips of “Send in the Clowns”

Below I list links to some of the classic interpretations of this song – and the less successful. I hope to show that reaching an opinion of “authenticity” is a futile excercise.

“Send in the clowns” – Barbara Streissand: Streissand has owned this song for many, and she even convinced Sondheim to write her an extra verse. Her insistence truly enhanced the structure of the song, but also made it more successful as a “stand-alone” song outside of the show for which it was originally written.

“Send in the clowns” – Angela Lansbury: There is no longer a voice worth speaking of, but what a heart-felt performance.

“Send in the clowns” – Cleo Laine in which the accompaniment is focussed around sustained strings, and the arpeggiated figures are totally underplayed.

“Send in the clowns” – Elizabeth Taylor – I personally find this version unbearable, but others have commented that it is “theatrically and dramatically appropriate”. Perhaps. But not for my iPod, thanks.

Other songs from “Moonlight Serenade”

Arnold Schoenberg’s “Erwartung”, beautifully sung by a miss Gracova. Its atmospheric piano writing and haunting melodies conjure up the world of Sondheim’s “Night Music”. Schoenberg at one time made a living orchstrating operettas. Since  his Twelve-Tone Technique dominates writings on his work one tends to forget how important melody is to this composer, whether it uses all 12 tones of the scale or not. An interesting documentary on Schoenberg’s life in Vienna before 1900, is most informative.

The film “Yentl” yielded some excellent material, and this song by Michel Legrande is very much in the Sondheim genre.

“Papa can you hear me” Barbara Streissand

“Papa can you hear me” in the actual scene from the movie “Yentl” – Barbra Streissand

“Papa can you hear me” in an operatic misjudgement by Ewa Lewandowska. This lady has a good voice. However, she sings this song terribly.

“Memory” from Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s “Cats” – Barbara Streissand: Again, along with Elaine Paige’s, this version sold millions of 45rpm vinyl discs long before CD’s were even invented.

“Memory” – Susan Boyle. A talented lady with a dream who deserves her shot at fame. This recording shows perhaps why she did not win.

All in all an eclectic programme then. Let the audience be the judge.

Bachianas #5 will be performed in "Moonlight Serenade" and is recorded by Louise Howlett on her latest CD

Bachianas #5 will be performed in "Moonlight Serenade" and is recorded by Louise Howlett on her latest CD

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Louise Howlett and I will be performing the Bachianas Brasileiras #5 by Villa-Lobos in our new “Moonlight Serenade” programme. We have recently recorded this for release on our upcoming CD and spent a very intense few hours in the studio experimenting with different performing styles and “versions”. I am also preparing a performance of this work with Filipa von Eck for a concert in Mozambique which will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Villa-Lobos’s death. The work is so popular and well-known that I thought performing it would be relatively straight-forward. I knew it so well. Or at least, I thought I did.

Brazilian Heitor-Villa Lobos (1887-1959) is one of the most significant Latin Composers to date. He wrote works in many different styles: orchestral, instrumental, small chamber ensembles, songs and more. His music is influenced by Brazilian folk music, but he is  considered a composer of classical music. A set of 9 Bachianas Brasileiras aim to combine his love for the music of his country with homage to the work of J.S. Bach. Villa-Lobos is said to have found analogies between Bach’s works and the traditional music of Brazil.

Originally written for soprano and eight-part cello ensemble, the “Bachiana #5” is very often performed incomplete. The first section, the Aria (Cantilena) composed in 1938, is often performed on its own. Its hauntingly beautiful melody has made it extremely popular and the second part, Dança (Martelo) added in 1945 is often omitted. The Aria opens with pizzicato cellos, their plucking sounds reminiscent of a large, resonant guitar. The voice enters with a melody so exquisite and haunting that it stays with you forever. And no matter where you hear it, the reaction to its beauty is instant.

Its shape is simple: A long mellifluous melody flanks a more dramatic middle section, creating an A-B-A structure similar to a Braoque “Da Capo aria” that Bach might have written. If one accepts that melody is the essence of music, and that the essence of melody is song, then one can easily see the connection between the worlds of J.S. Bach and Heitor Villa-Lobos. Melody was always apparent in the works of Bach, and not a strict or rigid type of melody, but a fluid, rhapsodic and improvisatory kind – much like many types of folksong. And in the works of both composers, the feeling of the dance is never far away. The text to the middle section was written by Ruth Valadares Correa, and is a beautiful evocation of the beauty of the moon – therefore it was an obvious choice for our “Moonlight Serenade”. But the largest part of this work has no text. The singer just sings an exquisite melody without words, a vocalise to move the listener to their core.

The difficulties with performing this work appear when you try to do it without the orchestra of cellos. Most piano versions of music originally written for orchestra, are designed to make the music “performable” without an actual orchestra. Many tricks are used by editors to imitate the sounds one would expect to hear. Tremolos, runs up and down the piano to create washes of sound, or thundering chords held in the pedal, all in an attempt to delude the listener into forgetting that the eighty-piece orchestra has been replaced by ten fingers. The problem is that a piano creates vastly different sounds to seven plucking cellos.

Villa-Lobos himself created a piano version in 1948,  mainly to satisfy his publishers, who needed something they could sell easily. The work was an instant popular success and singers wanted to learn and perform it, but weren’t always in a position to provide the cello orchestra. I have searched high and low for a recording of this version, but the lack of recordings of this version bears out my impression that this was not a version for serious performance, but rather a transcription to assist a singer in learning it. Sensible and sturdy chords give no hint of the flutter of butterfly wings created by the cellos.

Villa-Lobos had also worked extensively with guitarist Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) who is considered to be the father of the modern classical guitar movement by most modern scholars. As Segovia traveled the world, he and the guitar became more and more popular. Composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos began to compose original pieces specifically for the guitar. With their dark and melancholy mixture of dissonance and cello-like phrasing, Villa-Lobos’ compositions in particular, seem to fit the guitar perfectly. Segovia transcribed many of other composers’ works for the guitar, including a transcription of the “Bachianas #5” itself a re-working of Villa-Lobos’ 1947 guitar version.

Guitar arrangement by Villa-Lobos which forms the basis for transcriptions by Segovia and myself

Guitar arrangement by Villa-Lobos which forms the basis for transcriptions by Segovia and myself

This was the version I originally selected for my own performances on the piano. The thinned-out texture of the guitar version translated to the piano a lot better than I had expected. Louise and I performed this version, but the evolution was not yet complete. I would have to perform this work with other sopranos in other contexts, so I needed to adapt this into a performance version with which I felt comfortable. This guitar-version by Segovia was also “incomplete” in certain respects, not least because some of the solo cello lines were left out, or in some cases given to the soprano to sing.  This was an arrangement of an arrangement.

When Louise and I went into the studio, we recorded this adaptation at the original pitch, and it sounded very good. But we wanted to experiment further, especially since we had the advantage of a microphone and a superb sound-technician Duncan MacKay. We transposed it down into a lower key and tried again. The result was something original, which blended in with the other material on the CD.  Louise didn’t have to project so much to get her voice up into the high notes of the soprano range, and this created an ease of vocal production that allowed colouration that would not normally be possible. She could sing a lot softer, making the performance a lot more intimate than we had experienced before in our concerts and making it less “operatic” than most versions. This is in fact an appropriate style, since the work is written in the style of a “modinha” a sentimental love song “of uncertain origins” that evolved in Brazil and Portugal. It was a serenade of sung in the streets to guitar accompaniment, and the origins of the work are thus definitely not operatic.

Still, we can’t perform it in this intimate way in an acoustic concert. So as we come up to a series of very different performance settings, the final version has yet to emerge. At Villa Pascal’s in Durbanville, there will be a microphone for Louise, but which key will we use? The lower one that we discovered in the studio, which reveals the intimate, romantic side of her voice? Or the higher pitch at which it was written, exploiting the more operatic side of her voice? We are not yet sure.

When it comes to a purist approach to this work, classical music lovers are in difficult territory. It is true that the only “correct” version of this work is with the original cello orchestra. But the very fact that Villa-Lobos made, encouraged and sanctioned arrangements of his own works, makes it difficult to be dogmatic on this issue. A glance around at available recordings is enlightening: Click here to listen to a variety of different arrangements of “Bachianas #5” . The one omission from this list is the arrangement by Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink, but once our CD is released, we can rectify that…

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There are many different arrangements of the Bachianas Braisleiras in print and in recorded media. I here offer a few versions in different styles, genres and voice-types.

Bidu Sayão -The first soprano to record Villa-Lobos’s large-scale “Symphony Cantata” “Amazon”. Performed in the presence of the composer, her performances are regarded as authentic as one can claim. We also have her to thank for the very existence of the vocal version of the work. Villa-Lobos originally conceived the melodic line for a violin, and it was Mz. Sayão who suggested the Vocalise concept. She did not however sing the World Premiere. The lyricist of the Aria (Cantilena) Ruth Valadares Corrêa gave the first performance in 1938.

Barbara Hendricks – A modern recording of a beautiful soprano rendition with the original orchestration.

Galina Vishnevskaya (Original Orchestration with Mstislav Rostropovich playing the solo cello) – It might seem alarming that the dedicatee Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” and performer of Russian works such as Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District” would tackle this work, and yet it is deeply moving in its own right. The famous “Slavic Wobble” is absent, and the white vibrato-less sound for which her Tosca and Aida were criticised, seems to suit the ethereal cantilena. Russian poet Anna Akhmatova wrote “Listening to the singing” in 1961 after hearing this performance. Villa-Lobos himself played the cello, and it says something of the power of this piece that a great solo cellist such as Rostropovich would join a “cello-choir”.

Camile van Hulsen Organ transcription – A version which exploits the sustaining qualities of the organ.

SEBA – I think this version performed by a Crossover Jazz Ensemble would be more interesting if the performance was not so compromised.

Trio Arrangement for Soprano, Piano and Cello which attempts to combine the prominent elements of the Piano Arrangement with the textured movement of the cello part, reduced to one lone cello. There are successful elements at work here, but it is almost impossible to remain consistent throughout the work as the staccato passages are passed between the instruments.

Eva Marton and the New York Harp Ensemble – Mz Marton’s unsuitability to the vocal line apart, I felt the harps either too resonantly recorded or just not dry enough to capture the guitar-like texture. A useful experiment and a surprising failure.

Elena Garancia (Reorchestrated) – A Mezzo-soprano singing the soprano line magnificently. Yet while she sings in the traditional “operatic” voice, the accompaniment has been fleshed out. Perhaps as there is a certain discomfort in the original version, given that we are not used to listening to an orchestra made up of only baritonal cellos? A lovely version, but it definitely can not be called “authentic”. Is that a problem? Let the listener decide.

Victoria de los Angeles – The doyenne of Spanish singers is for many the ideal interpreter of this work. I personally find the cellist’s overindulgent rubatos too much to handle.

Machaca Ensemble (re-orchestrated with percussion) – An interesting orchestration including Xylopohone. An experiment that perhaps is not yet complete. The use of percussion can be further explored.

Martin Ostertag and Boris Björn Bagger both teach at the University of Music Karlsruhe and made an interesting version for Guitar and Cello only with the Cello replacing the voice. A lovely arrangement perhaps, but a rather dry-eyed performance. Sheetmusic available at

An audio clip is available on Amazon by Miles Davis protégé Wayne Shorter – as authentic and heartfelt a response to this work as one can hope to hear. Reinvented, original and beautiful.

Reinvented but much more baffling is a version by Jorge Aragao, a Samba artist who started performing in the 1970s. The carnival feel seems very far removed from the heartfelt cantilena of the “moon rising over the infinite beauty of transparent clouds”

John Williams & Nana Mouskouri – This rather baffling rendition has divided opinion for almost 40 years. Nana Mouskouri had an instantly recognisable voice ideally suited for folk music, aunique personal style which she applied to everything that she sang. She transposes the high notes down, making it a very strange listening experience. Yet it was hugely popular in its time and broadcast on BBC4.

Joan Baez – A folk singer with a voice similar to Nana Mouskouri, but a vastly more successful performance in its original orchestration. Even when it was first recorded, critics had little idea what to make of this version. It was not classical, it was not folk. And it deffinitely was not bad. No it is not “classical”. Some might say, “Thank God”.

Frida Boccara turns in a surprisingly successful version where the voice does not take centre-stage but rather melds with the cellos, at some points indistinct enough that it almost becomes one of the instruments of the orchestra.

Lance Bryant’s version is for SAXOPHONE and String Quartet – Perhaps with a world-class saxophonist this version has potential.

Bachianas goes Café del Mar: The Operatica rethink has left me undecided. New art or travesty?

And just when you think you have heard it all – I am afraid to comment on this choral version. Perhaps a successful choral version such as the “translation” of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” into a choral “Agnus Dei” still waits to happen for this work.

I include a version for Jazz Vibraphone and Harpsichord mainly for the dubious sake of completianism.

I leave the worst for last. Undoubtedly an amateur, Hayley Westenra here reveals all the virtues  and mysteries of her non-art. Breathing in the middle of phrases is the least of her flaws. An attempt at pretty singing simply falls flat. It is as meaningless a performance as one could have the misfortune to encounter. ANd Mz Westenra commits the ultimate Bachianas Crime: to bore the listener.

Useful links

A  list of recordings of works by Villa-Lobos currently in the catalogue

A list of scores and some archive recordings

Text and translation

Some published arrangements

The Aria (Cantilena) has also been arranged for:

Voice and Guitar as performed by Andrés Segovia

Voice and piano by Burle Marx

Concert Band by W. Herbert

Organ solo by Camil Van Hulse

Flute and Piano by James Galway

Viola and piano by William Primrose

Clarinet Choir by John Krance

Alto sax solo and sax quartet accompaniment by Frank Bongiorno

Solo Soprano Sax (C Instrument), 2 Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Bass Sax all published by AMP (Hal Leonard)


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Bachianas Brasileiras #5 Aria (Cantilena) Text by Ruth Valadares Corrêa (who also sang its World Premiere in 1938)

Tarde uma nuvem rósea lenta e transparente.
Sobre o espaço, sonhadora e bela!
Surge no infinito a lua docemente,
Enfeitando a tarde, qual meiga donzela
Que se apresta e a linda sonhadoramente,
Em anseios d’alma para ficar bela
Grita ao céu e a terra toda a Natureza!
Cala a passarada aos seus tristes queixumes
E reflete o mar toda a Sua riqueza…
Suave a luz da lua desperta agora
A cruel saudade que ri e chora!
Tarde uma nuvem rósea lenta e transparente
Sobre o espaço, sonhadora e bela!

English translation:

Evening, a rosy, translucent cloud, slowly crosses the drowsy, beautiful firmament!

The moon gently rises into infinity, adorning the evening, like a sweet maiden dreamily getting ready, making herself beautiful, desiring her soul to be beautiful.

She calls to the heavens, the earth, to all of Nature.

She silences the birds’ melancholy laments, and the sea reflects all her treasures…

Softly the moon awakens, a cruel yearning which laughs and weeps!

Evening, a rosy, translucent cloud, slowly crosses the drowsy, beautiful firmament!

“Yes, I’m Brazilian—I’m very Brazilian. In my music, I let the rivers and seas of this great Brazil sing. I don’t put a gag on the tropical exuberance of her forests and skies, which I intuitively transpose to everything I write.”

Heitor Villa-Lobos (

Bachianas #5 is performed by Albert Combrink and Louise Howlett on their upcoming CD.

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Breaking Rules: Albert Combrink talks to Louise Howlett about “Cinema Serenade”

Cinema Serenade is all about the musical power of the silver screen. In fact,  it’s really a theatrical “excuse” for Louise to sing songs she has loved for many years. Oratorio and Opera arias get airtime along with jazz, musicals and pop.

Our product was hard to define – and market. Do we sell it as a classical programme with jazzy touches, or a pop programme including some bite-size classical chunks? We have so much fun weaving together these unexpected combinations and introducing audiences to new connections, and so when we have the choice, you’ll seldom find us presenting traditional programmes and recitals. Still, we face all the dilemmas of those working in the multi-genre, cross-over land.

Most cross-over material is regarded as suspect. My wife thinks “cross-over” sounds like some horrible stiff kind of brassiere! In some cases, it’s seen as classical concession to popular tastes (think Jessye Norman singing Billy Joel – not her greatest project). Or else it’s a pop singer with highbrow pretentions (think Michael Bolton yelling, er, singing “Nessun Dorma” – panned by fans and critics). Let’s not even mention Haily Westenra, Charlotte Church, or Catherine Jenkins…  maybe their “cross-overs” were a bit too tight.

You’ve probably guessed that I cannot stand most of these so-called cross-over artists. There’s an instant-pudding pre-fabricated faux-velvet sheen to it. It’s the polar opposite to the solidity of years and years of hard study, experience and dedication to technical and expressive perfection of artists that I respect. And yet Louise falls squarely into the latter category. What impressed me from the first about her, is her desire to connect to the core emotional resonances of the song.

“So,” I ask Louise, “Is this Crossover?” She replies: “In a way this is cross-over in a  real sense. I am not an opera singer trying to do jazz nor a pop singer trying to do Carmen. I am just not singing only what I am supposed to sing. Opera singers are supposed to do opera and only opera. Pop singers are supposed to do pop. I am presenting the songs as I respond to them. I don’t want to sing pop with a classical voice or vice versa.”

Instead, explains Louise, “I want to connect with the content of the song. Ironically people nowadays listen to so much music that they do not always pay attention to what the song is about. In my programmes I try to link the songs thematically, and emotionally, by really thinking carefully about the content and meaning of each song. And in doing that, one sometimes has to break the rules

What rules are Louise and I breaking then? I realise that these are the rules of classification, mostly. The music industry works by classification. Check your iPod. You can chose from relatively useless categories such as Pop, Classical,  and (my personal favourite) “World”. But what do you do with an item that  fits comfortably in a few categories? The answer is not to waste your time trying to classify these songs, but rather to present them to the audience in a convincing context. Think about how Cleo Lane sang Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. If people respond, who cares that we’re breaking some of the Musica Shelf Rules.

Will this programme have purists reaching for the smelling-salts?  So far, the audience response has been tremendous. Tell young people they are about to hear a Vivaldi Oratorio and watch them cringe. They certainly won’t come out at night, or take out their wallets for it. Put the same material into a meaningful context for them, make it beautiful, and then watch them swoon. And they come back for more – which is my personal litmus test.

So, Louise sings Carmen’s Habanera and “I will survive” in the same programme. Does she do justice to both? Judging from the standing ovations and happy concert-promoters, the answer is an emphatic “Yes!”. My own role is pretty challenging, given that there is no big-band, rock band or symphony orchestra for Louise to hide behind. The intimacy of working with only one other performer makes a recital such as this every bit as challenging as a Lieder Recital. Does one call it Cross-over? Maybe. Or maybe just call it “breaking the rules”.

Read what Chandos and Sony execs have to say about the Cross-over artists in their stables.

Also look out for our new programme, Moonlight Serenade. Here we lead the audience through a sequence of songs inspired by the Moon, the Playlist included a Schoenberg Lied and a song from the Muppet Movie – not to mention musical theatre items sung un-amplified.