Fernandes' U.S. debut electrifying
George Hubbard
Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A small Brazilian bombshell just about demolished the Simons Center Recital Hall on Monday afternoon, and the loud and prolonged applause pretty much took off the rest of the roof.

Pianist Heloisa Fernandes of Sao Paulo made her American debut in this Wachovia Jazz Series concert, playing her own compositions and those of Heitor Villa-Lobos and Antonio Carlos Jobim. She is a powerful and dextrous pianist; her technique was superb, and her stamina was astonishing. She played just a single set, but it was more than an hour long, and she took only a few brief breaks to tell us a bit about the pieces.

One could hear echoes of Ravel and Gershwin in the music, filtered through the Brazilian influence of Villa-Lobos. It contained the driving intensity of pulsating piano figurations, perhaps based on Jobim, but with certain overtones of Philip Glass. Jobim's "Desafinado" received a high-powered treatment, always aware of the original but infused with Fernandes' own characteristic phrasings and harmonies.

The heart of the concert was Fernandes' own composition "Fruto," which left some of us gasping for breath at the end. It seemed, however, that "Crianca," inspired by the artist's children, was the emotional highlight for her. It had many sections and ranged through lots of moods. At times one could almost see the two young children as different expressions passed over the player's face.

The program will be repeated twice on Tuesday and twice on Wednesday. If there are tickets left, scoop them up.

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