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Colin Clarke
Fanfare, January 2011

This is the second installment from Naxos of piano concertos by the intriguingly named Brazilian composer Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907–93). The forces of the first volume are retained (Volume 1 was released in 2005; the present works were recorded in Warsaw in 2006 and 2007). The sixth concerto claims to be a world premiere recording (there are actually no alternative versions of the other concertos currently available).

The obvious link is to Villa-Lobos, Guarnieri’s compatriot. The Naxos booklet note quotes Aaron Copland, who gushed unapologetically about Guarnieri (referring to him as “the most exciting talent among Latin American composers”). On the present evidence, it is easy to see what Copland referred to.

The Fourth Concerto of 1968 is a substantive statement that includes serial procedures. The piece omits violins. The busy, densely scored opening attests to the music’s determination (Naxos’s recording shows no sense of crowding, to its credit). Yet there are moments of real fantasy here, too. Varied and colorful though the terrain may be, doubts surface from time to time as to the memorability of it all. There is no doubting Guarnieri’s orchestrational skill. The wide-ranging central movement of the Fourth is marked “Profundamente triste” and contains moments of huge beauty as well as post-Bartókian nightmare. Max Barros seems perfectly attuned to Guarnieri’s mode of expression. The brief, five-minute finale glitters. The melodic shapes are angular in a way that seems to imply a sort of pre-Stravinsky. All credit to the Warsaw Philharmonic, which negotiates the tricky and rapid corners with aplomb.

Dating from a mere two years later, the Fifth Concerto is a work of free atonality. The feeling is that Guarnieri is perfectly at home in music that is relaxed without being actually aimless, and able to contrast this with glittering, rhythm-driven passages. The central panel here is fascinating. It contains passages hewn of granite, set against the most delicate textures. The finale includes some native Brazilian instruments and is an absolute, airy joy. Barros ensures that rhythms dance, sometimes playfully, sometimes mysteriously.

The Sixth Concerto is the most concise here, lasting a mere 12 minutes. Modestly scored (piano, strings and percussion), affable and approachable, it forms the perfect end to the disc. The central Calmo contains the most overtly romantic music of the disc.

Mark L Lehman
American Record Guide, September 2010

Camargo Guarnieri (1907–93) is surpassed only by Villa-Lobos in the pantheon of Brazilian composers. I actually think he’s the better of the two. His music overflows with dandy tunes, piquant harmonies and scorings, bracing rhythms, sun-drenched color, inimitable zest and brio; it bursts with emotion, too—life-affirming energy, sensuous mystery, nostalgic melancholy. And he’s a fine craftsman. However intricate the instrumental interplay or figuration, however ornamented or elaborate the melodic lines, the music is always bracingly clean, the architecture unpadded and deliberate. Like Villa-Lobos and Ginastera, he draws on Amerindian dances, using indigenous sources much as Bartok used (and transformed) Central European peasant music.

Naxos issued the first three of Guarnieri’s piano concertos five years ago (8.557666) and now completes the cycle of all six. Concertos 4 and 5 are full-scale works, ambitious in scope, drama, and variety, with solo parts of demanding brilliance and bravura, and are somewhat spikier and more chromatic than the earlier concertos. Allegros are rugged, exciting, ostinato-driven. The central andantes are florid and nocturnal, with iridescent arpeggios and sinuous wanderings in the piano, ghostly woodwind sighs, and unexpected outbursts of angry defiance—in Concerto 5 a twinkling scherzo pops up right in the middle of the slow movement—that evoke night falling across both verdant Amazonian rainforest and darkening human thought. Anyone who responds to the piano concertos of Bartok, Prokofieff, Barber, or Corigliano will want to hear them. Concerto 6 is a later work, simpler in idiom and only a concertino in size, and scored for just piano, strings, and percussion. Even so it still has enough voltage to power St Louis in the summertime.

Pianist Max Barros and the Warsaw Philharmonic play the socks off these concertos. Add that to Naxos’s ultra-vivid sonics, and you’ve got an hour of musical thrills.

David Hurwitz, August 2010

This second installment completes the cycle of all six Guarnieri piano concertos, and remarkable works they are. Nos. 4 and 5 are thorny, often atonal pieces that will present no problems to anyone who enjoys, say, the first two piano concertos of Bartók, or even Samuel Barber. Driving rhythms fortified by characterful keyboard figuration and colorful percussion sonorities typify the outer movements, while the central slow movements offer a haunting lyricism that somehow manages to remain utterly personal and captivating.

The Sixth concerto is a short piece, a “concertino” really, more obviously influenced by the folk music of the composer’s native Brazil, but it’s no less beautifully crafted. As with the first volume, the performances are totally committed, virtuosic, and remarkably well-played given the music’s novelty. Max Barros negotiates the rambunctious allegros with plenty of dazzle but no trace of hardness to his tone, while the Warsaw Philharmonic under Thomas Conlin does an impressive job of accompanying him. The engineering also is notably clear and well-balanced.

Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, August 2010

Barros delivers shoals of notes with unfaltering brio and a complete command of the idiom, and he is brilliantly partnered and recorded.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, July 2010

I won’t beat around the bush. This is a really excellent disc in every regard. Mozart Camargo Guarnieri has been one of my most pleasurable discoveries of recent years via the cycle of symphonies released on BIS featuring the really excellent Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paolo under John Neschling (see review review). But perhaps this should have come as no surprise to me given that Aaron Copland, returning from an extended goodwill tour of South America in 1941 wrote; “Guarnieri is the most exciting talent among Latin American composers…what I like best about his music is its healthy emotional expression…he is the most authentic musician of the continent.” Who am I to argue with that! This is quoted by James Melo in his extremely informative and lucid liner-note which provides the icing on a disc for which I have nothing but praise. The music itself is instantly appealing without being superficial, the soloist Max Barros plays with total technical command and stylistic aplomb. On this form the Warsaw Philharmonic sound world class tackling the rhythmic complexities of the scores with real panache and flair under the clearly skilled hand of conductor Thomas Conlin. Add to that a recording rich in detail but set in the generous acoustic of the Philharmonic Hall Warsaw it allows the cutting brass and oh so important percussion to impact in a thrilling manner. Having recently had a run of discs where the orchestra involved sounded under-rehearsed and technically stretched how good to encounter music—by definition unfamiliar to the players—performed with such skill. Available at Naxos’ bargain price this is simply too good to miss.

This is the second volume of piano concertos by Guarnieri from Naxos and with this disc the cycle of six concertos is complete. Guarnieri’s compositional arc can be traced through these concertos. Numbers 1–3 on the earlier disc are ultimately simpler and direct in their manner—the performances on the earlier disc are every bit the equal of these. By the time he came to write the 4th concerto in 1968 Guarnieri was seeking ways of combining native Brazilian elements—all the melodies are his own but the folk influence is clear—with contemporary compositional techniques such are 12 tone serialism. But he was selective with the parts of that rigorous technique he chose to use; they are more structural than tonal: the form involves themes, retrograde themes in the exposition, inversions and the like. The real talent of any composer is to use these forms without the listener being painfully aware that he is attending some kind of public composition class—and that is the case here. If I had to characterise it at all I would say its along the lines of ‘Mr Bartók’s Holiday in Brazil’. Across the three concertos there are certain recurring features. The outer movements burst with joyful muscular energy. If you respond to Ginastera and his powerfully athletic and rhythmic earlier “Objective Nationalism” this will be for you. The opening movement of the Concerto No.5 [track 4] encapsulates all the many virtues of the music, performance and engineering—fantastic big horn and brass playing interspersed with unbuttoned thwacks on the timps. Across all six concertos Guarnieri runs the distinct movements together creating unified works. The central movements tend to be simpler and more song-like than the equivalent movements in Ginastera. The latter composer is extraordinary in his creation of strange haunted night-scenes strong on atmosphere. Guarnieri prefers a more directly lyrical approach which is equally effective. That being said the central Sideral (Astral) [track 5] of the Concerto No.5 is beautifully sparse and cool—a lovely flute solo over chilly string chords and numb piano at 4:30 and a stunning solo violin at about 7:50 demonstrating yet again the quality of both music and performers. Guarnieri has a real ear for orchestral colour too—it is not just a case of layering on unusual percussion and syncopating! Interestingly the liner tells us that this central movement was the first composed; would it be too much to see it as the heart of the entire disc?—marvellous in every respect. As before there is no break into the concerto’s finale—I love the way as the slow movement disappears into outer space the percussion creep in like industrious ants quickly drawing the rest of the orchestra into their restless toccata titled Jocoso (playful).

By the time Guarnieri completed his final concerto in 1987 he had passed his eightieth birthday. Originally titled Three Moments for Piano and Chamber Orchestra this is by some way the most condensed of the six works. Yes he does revert to a simpler more open style but it would be quite wrong to see this as a slackening of the creative drive. Far from it, the upper strings in particular have some very demanding passage-work—hurdles which the Warsaw players negotiate with seeming ease. Again the heart of the work is the central Calmo, muito sentido which does have the feel of a reflective backward musing. The final movement—scored as with the rest of this concerto just for strings and percussion accompanying the piano—is appealing but somehow lacking as much personality as in the earlier works.

Taken individually these are marvellous works and collected together on this disc they are an essential addition for anyone with an interest in 20th century piano concertos or South-American music in general. A small observation is that listened to sequentially, although the style evolves, there is a degree of sameness that might lessen the overall impact of each work when heard in isolation. But clearly, Guarnieri is seeking to use the form of the piano concerto to develop certain compositional ideas so why should we expect radically different solutions? These are in effect six branches from the same tree. I notice from the liner-note that pianist Max Barros has founded a publishing company and the back cover indicates that this same company provide the editions performed here. Clearly Barros’s commitment to the cause of South-American music in general and Guarnieri in particular goes way beyond learning some works because he was asked to. But this degree of identification and passion for the music oozes from every pore of this and the earlier disc—clearly a labour of love and one that should be applauded. It is also worth noting that each of the six concertos was recorded at different sessions over a period of three years. The continuity achieved by performers and engineers is first rate but again reflects an extended commitment that I for one am very grateful for. The liner mentions another four concertante piano works by Guarnieri—surely we can expect them from this team. Apparently he wrote two violin concertos too…come on Naxos what are you waiting for!

On what might seem a different tack; has any Guarnieri been performed at the BBC Proms? I cannot find a comprehensive list of Prom repertoire but it strikes me that this is exactly the kind of music that deserves that kind of stage—exciting, involving, instantly appealing—the Piano Concerto No.1 with its Gershwinesque echoes is a perfect ‘Prom Novelty’ and more appropriate to a concert series like this than ‘Sondheim at Eighty’ (and that’s coming from someone who has spent his performing life in the theatre!). Better still, bring this entire team of performers over to play it—I for one would go a long way to hear the Warsaw Philharmonic and Max Barros in this kind of form. Collectors who already have this composer’s music on their shelves will not hesitate. For those new to his work any of the symphonies or these concertos will provide an excellent point of entry depending on an individual’s preference. However the Naxos price advantage makes this disc and its companion irresistible.

Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog, June 2010

Guarnieri’s Piano Concertos Nos. 4, 5, and 6 (Naxos 8.557667) as performed by Thomas Conlin conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic with Max Barros, piano, gives you full-throttle music, excellently executed.

This is exciting, dynamic modernism, alternately brash and pellucid. Its motor-sensory insistence suggests early Prokofiev or middle period Stravinsky. The melodic invention and overall orchestration suggest nobody.

The generous inclusion of the last three concertos (composed 1968–87) gives us an extended look at the composer in a sort of international modern framework. It’s not music overflowing with South American folk strains. They are not well-known works, at least in the States, but they should be. No. 6, in fact, enjoys its world premier performance here.

If you love the modern style, this one will be a real treat. Bravo Guarnieri!

James Manheim, June 2010

With a name like Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (his brothers were named Verdi and the slightly misspelled Rossine), a compositional career was probably inevitable. Though a prominent figure in Brazilian concert life, and one preferred by Copland to Villa-Lobos, Camargo Guarnieri has found only intermittent performances in the U.S. and Europe. His music is ideal for inclusion in the Naxos label’s effort to rediscover various national traditions. Perhaps Camargo Guarnieri suffered because he lived long enough to change his style several times (although this was never an issue wit Stravinsky). After an initial strong rejection of serialism, he accepted a loose version of its principles in the Piano Concerto No. 4 heard here. He passed through several phases of free atonality, and in the Piano Concerto No. 6 he returned to the upbeat style of his youth, including elements of Brazilian nationalism and French neoclassicism. The strong point of this music is the consistent personality that shows through no matter the style. Camargo Guarnieri never offers the dramatic collision of Brazilian consciousness and European sensibility that one finds in the works of Villa-Lobos. But these three piano concertos, dating from between 1968 and 1987 (when Camargo Guarnieri was 80 years old), have a basic feel in common in spite of the fact that the Piano Concerto No. 4 is quasi-serial, the Piano Concerto No. 5 is freely atonal, and the Piano Concerto No. 6 returned to the more clearly Brazilian style of the composer’s earlier years. All the concertos weave the piano into a dense texture rather than setting it up in opposition to the orchestra. All have clear, easy-to-follow forms; they are neoclassical at heart despite the evolving language. And none of the pieces, even the Piano Concerto No. 4, completely dispenses with percussion-based Brazilian rhythms; Pianist Max Barros supplies the requisite tone, fluid and brilliant, and the Warsaw Philharmonic, seemingly an unlikely choice, actually is well-attuned to the crisp qualities of the music. An enjoyable item for fans of Latin American music.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2010

‘Guarnieri is the most exciting talent among Latin American composers’, wrote Aaron Copland long before the Brazilian gained international acclaim. Guarnieri was also the most progressive South American composer working in the 20th century, his six piano concertos—written through much of his life—pointing to an inquiring mind ready to experiment while still keeping his roots in Brazilian music. We have followed his progress through to the 1950’s in his first three concertos previously issued by Naxos, and we are still in the world of modern tonality mixed with serial themes when we reach the Fourth from 1968. It would be a generalisation to describe them as a Brazilian version of Prokofiev, but they have that similarity of balancing moments of hard-hitting activity with passages where peace and creamy beauty take over. That format covers the first two movements of the Fourth Concerto before Guarnieri unleashes a profusion of notes in a jagged final Rapido. The Fifth composed two years later is in much the same mode though with an added element of South American jazzy rhythms in the opening movement, while the little Jocoso (Playful) creates the highly energised finale. And so we turn full circle for the Sixth composed in his Eightieth year, the whole concept being tonal, immediately likeable, and in its brevity compacts so much that he had said at length in his younger years. Max Barros is the admirable soloist, tackling pages black with notes in playing of considerable technical brilliance. But the orchestral role is equally demanding and requires an ensemble of the Warsaw’s credentials to perform it with so much detail. They are conducted by the highly experienced Thomas Conlin, the lengthy recording time evidence of the preparation involved. Good sound.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group