Interview with Luiz de Moura Castro Print E-mail
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Written by Lynn René Bayley   
Friday, 05 April 2013

Interview with Luiz de Moura Castro

Luiz de Moura Castro is a Brazilian-born pianist who received his training at the National School of Music, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (summa cum laude), the Lorenzo Fernandez Academy of Music, Rio de Janeiro, and the Liszt Academy, Budapest. He made his recital debut at the age of nine, has since played in several corners of the world, and has recorded more that 40 CDs for such labels as Ensayo (Spain), Euterpe (Switzerland), L’Art (Brazil), and Musical Heritage (United States). My interest in him came primarily from his excellent album of Latin music plus Chopin, Brazilian Sarau (independent label, available from CD Baby), which I reviewed in Fanfare 36:1, so of course some of my questions will focus on that specific album.

Q: Mr. Castro, it’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview you. Although I hear many recordings of pianists I am not familiar with, only a few each year really grab my attention. What impressed me most about Brazilian Sarau was not just the specific program chosen, but the way in which you played it. Let’s start with the programming of that disc. Did you have the music chosen well in advance of planning the recording sessions, or did it come together for you fairly quickly?

A: I had no intentions of recording this CD. The program was a request from Paolo Fazioli (the creator of the Fazioli piano) for his concert series in the Fazioli Concert Hall in Sacile, Italy, next to his piano factory. I had been acquainted with the Fazioli pianos and Paolo Fazioli for quite some time. I played and recorded the Rachmaninoff Second and Third Concertos and the Paganini Variations with the Ljubjana orchestra in Slovenia using a Fazioli piano. Also, my Schubert CD (a live recording of a concert at the Hotchkiss School, Lakeville, Connecticut) was recorded on a wonderful Fazioli.

Mr. Fazioli requested a basically Latin American program…I organized it with pieces that I’d been playing for a long time. One and a half years later they sent me the recording of the recital and, being quite satisfied with the recording from the point of view of both sound and interpretation, we decided to make a CD out of it.

Q: I’m assuming that all of these pieces were already in your repertoire beforehand. Is that so, or were there any that you learned just for the recording?

A: Yes, they were all from my repertoire. I’ve played a considerable quantity of Latin American pieces, especially from Brazil, Argentina, and Cuba. My main teacher, Arnaldo Estralla, was one of Villa-Lobos’s favorite pianists as a young man. I also had a wonderful relationship with Villa-Lobos’s widow, Mindinha, so I played and recorded many of his compositions. Lorenzo Fernandez, Ernesto Nazareth, and Henrique Oswald were already in my repertory. At the Lorenzo Fernandez centenary I played his two works for piano and orchestra—the Concerto and the Symphonic Variations —that had not been played for 50 years. I often played the Villa-Lobos fantasy for piano and orchestra, Momo Precoce. I had a special relationship with Alberto Ginastera during the last six years of his life: I saw him in Geneva, Switzerland, where he lived at least three times a year. That’s why I recorded his output for piano in its entirety as an homage to the 10th anniversary of his death (except the Milonga and the Zipoli Toccata transcription). As for Piazzolla, who was a student of Ginastera for a while, I became immediately acquainted with his music and have been playing it constantly. The Spanish pieces were also part of my repertoire as well as the encores. This program was according to the taste of Mr. Fazioli, and was based on music which has a deep contact with folk music of Brazil, Argentina, Spain, etc. I’ve always had a strong connection with the more contemporary Brazilian composers like Camargo Guarnieri, Francisco Mignone (who was one of my teachers), Marlos Nobre, Edino Krieger, and Almeido Prado, who dedicated his Fifth Sonata to me. I performed extensively and recorded works by all of them. I also performed and recorded Prado’s Concerto for Piano and Percussion which has not yet been issued due to questions of copyright. In addition, from the Brazilian composer Edino Krieger I often play the Three Intervallic Etudes which are dedicated to me.

Q: Two pieces on your recording that really grabbed my attention were Villa-Lobos’s A Gaita do Precoce fantasiado and O Gingete de Pierrozinho, which really sparkled. But I do have a question, if I may, regarding your interpretation of Astor Piazzolla’s tangos and milongas, which you played in a somewhat dreamy style. Most of the recordings I’ve heard of Argentinean tangos, including the recordings of Carlos Gardel and Marcelo Alvarez, tend to be at a somewhat uptempo pace, but your performances were very dreamy and romantic. I was curious as to the difference in tempo and phrasing?

A: I’ve frequently been in Argentina, especially in Mendoza where I played many times and imparted a university graduate course in Latin American literature. The Carlos Gardel recordings I love, they refer to the old tango style. The revolution made by Piazzolla in the tangos is comparable to the bossa nova movement in Brazil…more sophisticated and with alternations of moments of violence with extreme lyricism. My preference is for the more lyrical pieces like Milonga del Angel (angels are not normally violent, and the milonga is a nostalgic piece). Incidentally, as I am Brazilian, I perform this music with a different, more subdued style, like the singers of bossa nova. It’s a matter of preference.

Q: While listening to your performance of Granados’s Spanish Dance No. 5, I was strongly reminded of the wonderful recording of it that Imperio Argentina made many years ago. I’m just curious, were you at all aware of her version? I ask that because your piano playing here had almost the identical “sparkle” to the music.

A: Concerning your question about Granados’s Spanish Dance , I have been playing and teaching in Spain (mostly in Barcelona) for over 30 years, so I’m very well acquainted with Spanish music and style. I was also quite influenced by the playing of the older generation like Granados himself, Tagliaferro, Malats, de Falla, Esteban Sanchez…I also talked a lot with Alicia de Larrocha who was a guest in my house in Texas, so the style got quite absorbed.

Q: I noticed in your credentials that you organize an annual Liszt Festival in Rio, are on the board of the American Liszt Society, and have recorded Liszt’s two piano concertos. I’m assuming that your interest in Liszt was fueled by your studies at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. What attracts you, personally, to Liszt, and can you tell us some of your favorite Liszt pieces?

A: Liszt is a guiding light of my life as a musician. My first teacher, Guilherme Fontainha, was a student of Vianna da Motta, who was himself a pupil of Liszt. Also one of my teachers in Budapest, Joszeph Gat, a piano student of Bartók, was also a student of Isztvan Tohmann, another pupil of Liszt. But the real revelation of Liszt as a composer came to me in the early 1950s when I heard Claudio Arrau performing Liszt. It changed my life.

In 1961 I received second prize in a national Liszt Competition that commemorated the 150th year of his birth. I was awarded a scholarship to the Liszt Academy in Budapest as a prize, where I studied the Sonata in B Minor that I have played all through my career. Beside that I have a very extensive Liszt repertory, including the Weinen Klagen Variations, Funerailles, Jeux d’Eaux a la Villa d’Este, Consolations, the Petrarch Sonnets , the two Legends of St. Francis, the two piano concertos, and the Malediction plus several works for two pianos.

Q: Have there been any earlier pianists whose work has influenced you, other than your teachers?

A: I already mentioned Claudio Arrau. There was also Wilhelm Backhaus, who was a colleague of my first teacher in Berlin. I have not forgotten his 32 Beethoven sonatas and five piano concertos that I heard in the space of two weeks when I was seven years old. I had read all the Beethoven sonatas preparing for this occasion. My love of French music was enhanced by the playing of Walter Gieseking. He played the first performances I heard of Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel and Debussy’s Estampes, Images, and Preludes. I was already performing some of the preludes at this time. Gieseking stayed for long periods of time in Rio de Janeiro because of his love of collecting butterflies, so I had the occasion of meeting him several times. Another great master was Wilhelm Kempff who played some of the finest Beethoven I have ever heard. Another indelible performance was Cortot’s 24 Chopin preludes at the end of his life. He was like a ghost, but had an enormous force of characterization with very little sound.

Afterwards, when I was in Budapest, I heard the Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer play the finest Schumann Fantasiestücke of my life. My first live concert of Arthur Rubinstein, with a fantastic Schumann Carnaval , and I also made my first acquaintance with Sviatoslav Richter. It was so strong that I could not sleep for two nights. The length and the quality of his tone was unsurpassable and his formal design impeccable.

The Brazilian pianist Magda Tagliaferro—who I heard many times, including in master classes and private lessons—also influenced me with her rhythmic projection and incredible variety of color. Again, on a very personal note, our relationship (both me and my wife) with the great Hungarian pianist Lili Kraus, who played very often in Rio de Janeiro, enabled me to hear her a number of times. In 1968 she was chairman of the most important Brazilian piano competition, where the winner was a student of mine. She asked to meet us and I played for her. Much to my surprise, I was invited through her to join the faculty of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, where she was an artist-in-residence. My wife, Bridget, became her student, and I accompanied her, playing the orchestral parts of her immense concerto repertoire.

Q: I also noted that you’ve recorded all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos with the Venezuelan Symphony. Judging from your recital CD, I can well imagine you as a fine Beethoven interpreter. I’m curious as to how many of his sonatas are in your repertoire, and if all of them, have you ever programmed concerts featuring all Beethoven sonatas?

A: Yes. Actively in my repertoire I have nine sonatas, and have performed the Les Adieux, Pastorale, and the op. 111 most often. I’ve recently resurrected the op. 10/1 which was the first Beethoven sonata I ever played. As I’m sure you know only too well, people have a tendency to classify you according to your recorded repertoire, so I was always known as a romantic pianist or a Latin American pianist. Curiously enough, in Venezuela (where I recorded all the Beethoven concertos live), I only played music of the Classical period: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, including recitals of Beethoven sonatas. I’ve also played a lot of Beethoven’s chamber music, including the trios and the violin and cello sonatas.

Q: I see that you are also very active as a teacher. Can you tell us some of your more notable students, or any interesting experiences you’ve had as a teacher?

A: I’ve been teaching constantly for more than 50 years. I have taught a lot in Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Portugal, France, Spain, Russia, Canada, and Japan, as well as the United States. It’s better not to mention names because they are so many. Many generations of pianists have passed through my hands. I am only going to cite one who is not alive: Claude Mottier, the great-grandson of Artur Schnabel and the grandson of Karl Ulrich Schnabel. I played for Karl Ulrich the Beethoven op. 10/1 when I was nine years old in Rio de Janeiro. I love teaching. For me, it is an obligatory complement of my life as a musician. I received a great tradition and I had the great fortune of studying with major teachers from my youngest years—not only piano, but already at age five I was studying solfeggio, improvisation, transposing, and composition with composers. I had no idea if I was going to be a musician or, if that was the case, whether a composer, a conductor, or a performer. So I try to pass these experiences on to the next generation.

I also had quite a solid knowledge of anatomy and physiology. The study with Joseph Gat in Hungary was decisive for my work, not only on the artistic level but also in functional technical preparation, solving of physical problems and healing. I love challenges. I have had many interesting students, even now in 2012. One of my students is recording the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier of Bach after a lot of success performing it. He has only six years of playing. Another one with six years of piano playing has performed seven concertos as well as all of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, besides having a very big repertoire.

I love the challenges that present themselves. One of my ex-students, who is deaf, is now at a university in China, and a Japanese student won accolades from the Brazilian Embassy in Tokyo for translating a book about Villa-Lobos into Japanese, as well as performing entire recitals of his music.

Q: Are there any upcoming recording projects you would like to tell us about?

A: Currently available at CD Baby is a live Schumann recording (the Arabesque, op. 18, Kinderszenen, op. 15, and Carnaval, op. 9)—the Chopin nocturnes—a cello recital—a DVD of a concert from Barcelona, and this Sarau of Brazilian music. My next project is, again, a live recital of Liszt from May 2012 at the occasion of the American Liszt Society Festival held in Eugene, Oregon. The fact that it received an extraordinary review by Alan Walker (the utmost authority on Liszt, with the most comprehensive biography of the composer available) and was most beautifully recorded on an excellent Steinway has animated us to release it soon.

P.S.: I recorded for Ensayo a CD, not available now, of Brazilian songs with Maria Jose Monteil which included some solo piano intermezzos and was nominated for a Latin Grammy. We hope that the copyright will be resolved to make it available.

CHOPIN Nocturnes (Complete) Luiz de Moura Castro (pn) NO LABEL NO NUMBER Independently issued (2 CDs: 120:32)

Available from CD Baby, CD Universe, and Amazon

I’ve never been one of those listeners who felt that every Chopin performance by Arthur Rubinstein was golden, but his 1965-67 recording of the complete Nocturnes has always been my favorite version of this music (partly as an antidote to those Chopin nocturnes recorded by Horowitz), thus I had Arthur pulled out by way of comparison with these new recordings by de Moura Castro.

What I heard were performances by de Moura Castro which, while slower even than Rubinstein’s stereo version—which in itself was generally slower than his previous two recordings of the complete Nocturnes —had much the same lyricism, musical phrasing, and deep-in-the-keys touch. Both Castro and Rubinstein also play with great feeling without slipping into sentimentality or bathos. Some of the reasons for the slower timings come from Castro’s use of slightly longer Luftpausen in his phrasing, some of it from merely extending the time of certain notes within each phrase a split-second longer than Rubinstein. All of this is certainly fine and acceptable within the general tradition of Chopin playing. In addition, the sound of de Moura Castro’s new digital recordings simply has more amplitude than RCA’s analog stereo tapes of the ’60s, no matter how beautifully remastered. In some places, I felt that Rubinstein had captured the “feel” of the rhythm with a bit more Polish authenticity, which is only natural considering that Poland was his homeland, but this is a personal and subjective point and does not detract from the generally fine work heard on the newer discs.

My only caveat is the complete lack of liner notes, though the RCA set largely focuses on the history of the nocturne as a form and Rubinstein as a performer. Comparing prices of the two recordings as of December 11, 2012, they’re about the same. Bottom line: If you want clean, sensitive performances combined with the most modern sonics, you’ll want the Castro set, whereas if you prefer slightly tauter readings of some of these Nocturnes with a bit more of a Polish accent, you’ll want Rubinstein. Lynn René Bayley

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 March 2013 )
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