Chamber music players try to make their performances intimate, as if audiences were enjoying a little Schumann in the drawing room.
Sunday night in the Cistern, an appreciative audience endured the humidity to experience a different kind of intimate chamber music. Nailor "Proveta" Azevedo, the distinguished Brazilian clarinet and saxophone player, presented a delightful mix of songs in the "Choro" tradition.
"Choro" means cry, but in fact the music is lively and typically built with flurries of quickly played melismas set to the loose yet driving rhythm of the pandeiro, a kind of tambourine. The music combines European dance forms, such as polka and waltz, with a distinctly Latin sensibility (informed by Africa).
Azevedo's musical fire was matched note for note by a group of astonishingly good musicians. It was evident that they all looked up to their leader as an icon, though Azevedo gushed when speaking (in halting English) about pianist-composer Andre Mehmari, a young star whose fast fingerwork up and down the keyboard and ability to be both serious and playful helped make the show a special one.
Roberta Valente played the pandeiro with a relaxed intensity that held everything together and caused one to marvel at this tiny drum's range of expression. Alessandro Penezzi played a seven-string guitar and provided the group with a dynamic bass line when he wasn't showing off his impeccable technique. His partner in the plucked-string section was Danilo Brito, a virtuoso mandolin player. Penezzi and Brito were featured mid-set when they played a couple of delightful duets.
The concert demonstrated how Brazil has assumed a central role in producing much of today's most interesting classical and popular music, much of it for small ensembles. Rooted in tradition, the Choro style allows its practitioners to reinvent it continuously. And when it comes to practitioners, Azevedo and his collaborators are among the best.