The news fell like a thunderclap on Monday 1er November, All Saints Day: the immense Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire passed away on the night from Sunday to Monday, at the age of 77, in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). The musician, victim of a fall in the middle of the street in the Brazilian capital, where he had fractured his right shoulder in 2019, had disappeared for two years from international stages, where he performed regularly. He had not recovered, to the point of having to give up sitting on the jury of the last Chopin competition in Warsaw, alongside his friend, Martha Argerich, who had also withdrawn to visit him.
Like her, the musician was nervous; like her, he wondered if each concert would not be the last. Discreet but charismatic personality, adored for a long time by his peers, Nelson Freire, whom a paraphrase has long designated as “The best kept secret of the piano”, suddenly rose to prominence in the early 2000s with two recordings Chopin (2002) and Schumann (2003), recorded for Decca, after some twenty-five years spent voluntarily away from the studios.
Nobility and simplicity, density without heaviness, flexibility and sensuality, aerial virtuosity, Nelson Freire’s playing is unique. An art that is both solar and solitary, with the supreme elegance of who offers music, and that alone. The hands are those of a giant child, round and chubby, feline paws capable of life or death on Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Brahms, Schumann. They just sway more to the swaying turns that punctuate the pieces of Villa-Lobos, recorded for Telefunken in 1974, then in 2012 and 2017 for Decca.
Nelson Freire was born on October 18, 1944, in the south-east of Brazil, in Boa Esperança, 12,000 souls and two pianos. One is the one that Mme Freire brought in from Germany a few years earlier. The youngest of 3 years, preceded by many brothers and sisters, seizes it. The piano is good for everything. Asthma attacks, rashes, eczema, strips and other poultices. With the guava-based paste prepared for him by his father, a pharmacist, the piano has always nourished Nelson Freire.
“I was almost born dead, he confided to World, in 2004. Allergic to life and not tolerating any food. Under constant protection and all games prohibited. My father later felt the need to write a long letter to tell me about this ordeal of my early childhood, for which the piano, which my older sister played, was the only palliative. ” The little boy is not only a gifted child, he is knowledgeable in science.
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