Mignone Piano Music Nimbus NI8113

Francisco Mignone (1897-1986)
Piano Music
Martin Jones (piano)
rec. 2022, Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Nimbus NI8113 [67]

Francisco Mignone’s parents were from Italy and had emigrated to São Paulo a year prior to his birth in 1897. His first studies were with his father, a flautist, and Silvio Motto, a pianist in his home town. His education was doubtless broadened in his early teens by deep immersion in the musical life of the city before his conservatory life, studying piano, flute and composition, began in 1912. It appears that Mário de Andrade, a fellow student four years his senior, was a considerable influence on the young Mignone, especially in his approach to Brazilian nationalism. Success in São Paulo gave him the opportunity to study in Italy under Vincenzo Ferroni, a pupil of Massenet. He remained in Europe once his studies were completed soaking up musical influences and achieving some success but his need to write Brazilian music, spurred on by de Andrade, led to a return to Brazil in 1929 and in 1933 he setted in Rio de Janeiro where he taught conducting at the National School of Music until his retirement. After this, he continued performing and was composing into his eighties.

He wrote piano music periodically through most of his career though Jones concentrates on works composed before 1950. Beside the four Sonatinas of 1949 he plays extracts from his Valsas de Esquina, literally waltzes of the street corner, and Lendas sertanejas, country legends, alongside individual works that feature Brazilian and European influences. The recital opens with the melancholy Lenda sertaneja no.8, its beautiful melody singing over a flowing and gently rhythmic accompaniment. Two more lenda are heard, the sixth that opens with a guitar like introduction reminiscent of Ravel before the short phrased chordal melody begins and the fourth which has a wider dramatic range, a sinuous accompaniment to a gentle melody and a brief joyous outburst at its heart. The two Valsas de esquina are dark-hued and sensuous; the first reminds me of Chopin in its mood and figuration even if it evokes Brazilian street-life rather than Parisian salon while the passions of the twelfth are altogether grander. If the valse élégante is a little more restrained it is nonetheless a charming and whimsical salon waltz.

Other dances here feature Brazilian rhythms; the energetic Cucumbizinho has its roots in the Cucumbi, a dance for percussion and voice while the increasingly vivacious Congada is taken from Mignone’s first opera O Contratador dos Diamantes. The Tango is appropriately sultry and the four peças Brasileiras are all dances; Moroco slow and with something of a habañera about it and the upbeat Maxixando which is based on a Maxixe, an afro-brazilian dance – an Africanised polka as one internet source describes it. Nazareth is an homage to Mignone’s fellow composer Ernesto Nazareth who incidently wrote many maxixe though he preferred to call them Brazilian tangos, and Toada, tune, concludes the set with a jaunty dance bookmarking the tuneful central section. Paulistana is another homage, this time to the people of his home town. Its many contrasting sections are full of colour and syncopated rhythms with an evocative nocturnal central part. The dissonances and occasional toccata like writing only add to the sense of a vibrant, bustling and noisy urban scene.

The four Sonatinas are contemporary, though when I first listened I felt sure that they were growing more harmonically acerbic as they progressed. There is more dissonance in the third and fourth though there is plenty of Mignone’s humour in the writing too. All four are short, two movement works – the third at a shade over 8 minutes is the longest. The format is a slower, more lyrical movement preceding a faster one. The first Sonatina seems to echo the style of the opening lenda sertaneja but with a brief, glittering cadenza; a jazzy dance, full of dynamic contrast completes it. The second opens with a slow movement distinctive for its simplicity – it is marked muito simples – and its short phrases are almost conversational in the way they interact; first a melody in bare unison notes followed by a warmer chordal theme. The finale has elements of a baroque dance -   a bourrée perhaps – that grows more contrapuntal and discordant as it progresses. The opening of the third is enigmatic and somewhat other-worldly, with its lithe melody over a slightly unnerving underlay. It escapes into a scherzo that soon joins in duet with the main theme, before the rhythm of the scherzo is banished and the mood returns to its uneasy calm. A curious march opens the finale, staccato left hand against a super smooth melody, but it soon becomes clear that this is a set of variations; Mignone fits so much into these four and a half minutes of music, imaginative and inventive, making full use of the entire length of the keyboard – an utter delight. The upper keyboard opening to the fourth sonatina is almost pastoral, but it soon gives way to a melody over an insistently repetitive accompaniment, the mood turning icy and desolate. A dance finale, mostly written around an ostinato bass line completes these four attractive works which deserve to be heard more often.

You can tell where my tastes lie if I have left the utterly charming Serenada Humoristica until last. It has all the rhythmic energy and humour that is found in much of Mignone’s music, while happily sitting alongside the most engaging of Chaminade’s salon pieces or Smetana’s light-hearted polkas. The whole of this recital has opened my eyes to a new world of piano music having previously only heard one of the Valsas de esquina and Martin Jones, explorer into unknown repertoire nonpareil, is just the man to do it. Still fleet of finger and with a master storyteller’s grasp of drama, pace and humour, he brings this music to vivid life, finding all the colour and vitality in Mignone’s skilful blending of his Brazilian and European heritages.

Rob Challinor

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Lenda sertaneja No 8 (1938)
CucumbizinhoBrazilian dance (1931)
Valse élégante (1931)
Sonatina No 1 (1949)
Lenda sertaneja No 6 (1931)
Serenada Humoristica (1932)
Congada – dança, Afro-Brasileria (1924/28)
Sonatina No 2 (1949)
Lenda sertaneja No 4 (1930)
Tango (1931)
Quatro peças Brasileiras (1930)
Sonatina No 3 (1949)
Valsa de esquina No 1 (1938)
Paulistana – People of São Paulo (1942)
Sonatina No 4 (1949)
Valsa de esquina No 12 (1943)