Were it not for Isabel Mourao's recordings of the piano music of Edvard Grieg and a precious few videos posted on YouTube, she might well be a figment of my imagination. She was the first pianist to record all the Lyric pieces by Grieg. I have finally found them, and they are wonderful. These salon pieces evoke images of time and place with a delicacy and subtle understanding of the composer's intentions.
Isabel Murao gave her New York debut recital at Town Hall in 1953. The Third Avenue El was still running, the Metropolitan Opera was still on 39th Street, and I was 5 years old. That time is long gone, but listening to her play the Chopin, Mozart and Villa-Lobos pieces recorded live at that debut recital brings me back to a time when the world was full of promise.
This is playing of the most natural kind. In the Chopin, Mourao is by turns, expressive, tender, passionate, but artlessly so. There is no pretense, no manipulation of rhythms and dynamcs for effect, no bravura. It is music from the heart of a supremely gifted young pianist, and it brings a mist to my eyes.
Isabel Mourao's Mozart is perfect. It is neither stylish nor sterile, just Mozart, beautiful and graceful.
Her playing of the Villa-Lobos evokes languid and romantic scenes of a Brazil that is no more, of Paul Henried lighting two cigarettes in Now, Voyager, of gentle breezes, and thunderstorms.
Isabel Mourao's timing is exquisite. Nothing interferes with the flow of the music, and yet all the drama is there in the right place and measure. What an artist. What a pianist. See if you agree.
Chopin Fantasy in F minor, Op 49 recorded in 1953
Mozart Piano Sonata in B♭ Major, K 570 recorded in 1953
Saint-Saëns Valse nonchalante, Op 110
Grieg Sonata in E minor, Op 7
i Allegro moderato
ii Andante molto
iii Alla Menuetto
iv Molto allegro
Grieg Lyric Pieces, Op 12
3 "Watchman's Song"
4 "Fairy Dance"
5 "Popular Melody"
6 "Norwegian Melody"
Grieg Lyric Pieces, Op 38
2 Folk Song
Grieg Lyric Pieces, Op 43
2 "Solitary Traveller"
3 "In my homeland"
4 "Little Bird"
6 "To the Spring" from the
Villa-Lobos "Impressões Seresteiras" recorded in 1953
Here is my new book, a murder mystery with a musical polemic