Villa-Lobos compiled 137 traditional Brazilian songs into an anthology entitled Guia Prático that later served as the basis for 11 short volumes of piano miniatures under the same title. A pedagogic agenda governs these piano pieces, but not to the rigorous, progressive specifications of, say, Bartók's Mikrokosmos. In fact, the churning rhythms and chordal complexities of Villa-Lobos' piano textures are anything but child's play; yet no matter how sophisticated the pianism, the infectious spirit of the original tunes always remains fresh and vibrant.
Almost every one of the 48 selections included here (books Ten and Eleven are slated for a future release) is a delightful, unpretentious bauble. Sample Espanha, the third piece from Book Two, and you'll get generous helpings of upbeat white-key Petrouchka harmonies, while Book Three No. 5 (Oh, Whirligig!) is pure South American Schumann. Book Five No. 4 (The Stick or Cat Miaow) makes its succinct, lyrical point with simple chromatic chords that remind me of Duke Ellington's intimate keyboard noodling. Either listen in order, or give your random play function a workout, and you'll marvel at Villa-Lobos' unflagging invention from one number to another. It helps, of course, that Sonia Rubinsky's colorful and technically shipshape interpretations are as lovingly nuanced and thoroughly idiomatic as we can desire, and they're beautifully recorded as well. In sum, this valuable addition to the Villa-Lobos discography deserves no less than the highest rating and warmest recommendation. [8/7/2006]
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com