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Camargo GUARNIERI (1907-1993):
Symphony No. 1* (1944) [33’02"]
Abertura Festiva (1971) [6’15"]
Symphony No 4, ‘Brasilia’* (1963)
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling
* World Première Recording
Recorded: Sala São Paulo, Brazil, February 2002 DDD


When this CD arrived from Len it had a note attached to it reading "this is good fun!" I agree, though the slow movements of these two symphonies show that Guarnieri’s music could wear a serious mien as well.

This is the second CD from the ever-enterprising BIS devoted to Guarnieri’s symphonies. My colleague, Rob Barnett gave a warm welcome to its predecessor in October 2002. That disc contained the Second and Third symphonies, played by the same performers that appear here. I understand from Rob’s review that Guarnieri wrote seven symphonies in all. That information is not contained in the liner note accompanying this disc which, while excellent in many respects, gives a little less general biographical information than I would have liked to see, given that this is a composer who may be new to many listeners, as he was to me.

Rob Barnett’s first review suggested that listeners could expect "the same irrepressible energy and joie de vivre that you get from Villa-Lobos, Ives or Grainger". That assessment seems to me to be spot on. Both of the symphonies here recorded follow a three movement design (as do the Second and Third, I believe) and in each case the outer movements are vivacious and, for the most part, full of gusto. My first few hearings of the disc inclined me to the view that Guarnieri is at his best in such music and that his slow movements are perhaps a little too lengthy for their material. However, that’s a view that I’ve revised with repeated listening, especially as regards the First Symphony.

The First Symphony, which is dedicated to Koussevitzky (did he perform it, I wonder?) was written in 1943. Much of the work on it was done during a visit to the USA. Guarnieri apparently spent much of this visit in New York but he also conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his Abertura Concertante (a work included on the other BIS CD that I’ve already mentioned.) It is a tremendously assured symphonic debut, though we learn from the notes that by this time the thirty-six year-old composer already had several major orchestral scores to his credit. The first movement, marked Rude, has great rhythmic drive and frequent changes of metre contribute to the rhythmic vitality and variety. Indeed, one senses that Guarnieri is to some extent delighting in rhythm for its own sake – I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. Brass, wind and percussion are well to the fore in the orchestral palette. There’s appropriate snap and bite in the Brazilian orchestra’s playing.

The slow movement, marked Profundo, begins with a serious, introspective melody, which is first heard on the horn and then taken up by the bassoon. More wind instruments and the string choir join in and develop an atmosphere of tranquil melancholy. In due course the music evolves into a kind of cortège, underpinned by percussion and low brass and wind instruments. The music grows in intensity and power and eventually achieves a short-lived climax before subsiding back to the mood of the opening. This time the strings carry the main burden of the argument in a passage of dignified beauty, which culminates in a noble climax before the music dies away.

After this Guarnieri blows away the cobwebs to some extent in the finale (Radioso) that opens with good-natured bustle, again featuring rhythmic vitality. However, before long (track 3, 1’46") a touching lyrical episode is led off by the cor anglais. Here the music has something of the feel of Copland (a good friend of Guarnieri). The lyric and more buoyant material alternate in vying for the listener’s attention before a final, very brief burst of musical high jinks brings the symphony to an emphatic conclusion. This is a very engaging work, which grew on me through repeated listening.

Its companion, the Fourth, appeared some twenty years later. By a neat coincidence it is dedicated to Koussevitzky’s one-time protégé, Leonard Bernstein, who had become a friend of the composer. Originally Guarnieri planned to enter the work in a competition for symphonic music to celebrate the foundation of Brazil’s new capital, Brasilia (hence the work’s title). However, when he was appointed to the jury for that competition he could no longer enter a work himself so composition was suspended. Eventually the work appeared in 1963. In the meantime he had written a cantata to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Rio de Janeiro and to some extent the works overlap.

Once again we find that strong rhythms underpin the first movement. There is also exuberant writing for brass and horns. As was the case with the First Symphony, the slow movement is much the longest. In fact, at 8’43" the slow movement of the Fourth occupies nearly half the symphony’s length. It begins with a searching melody for the first violins to which all the other strings apart from the basses are eventually added in unison, gradually enriching the texture and raising the emotional temperature. The composer himself referred to a "tragic, crazy feeling in the central part" of this movement and the music certainly has a dark, haunted air. A big grinding climax is reached at 5’19"

But eventually, after this troubled episode the strings reassert the opening theme and mood. This time, in a kind of inversion, the string sections gradually fall silent until only the first violins are left to close the movement.

We return to extrovert music in the finale. There is a brief tranquil episode at 2’08" but after less than a minute the fireworks resume, more brilliantly, as the movement and the symphony whirl to a tumultuous conclusion.

To complete the disc we hear the Abertura Festiva, a festive overture commissioned in 1971 by the very orchestra that plays it here. It is an entertaining jeu d’esprit which in its brief duration shows off all the sections of the orchestra. It’s a most enjoyable piece. Yet again, propulsive rhythm is at the heart of the piece, accentuated by colourful writing for the percussion section.

Throughout the disc the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra do their compatriot proud with committed, vital playing under the baton of their conductor, John Neschling, a pupil of both Hans Swarowsky and of Bernstein. He has been at the helm of this orchestra since 1997 and, it seems, has welded them into a very proficient and enthusiastic ensemble. BIS have recorded them in fine sound, which is detailed and atmospheric.

I have enjoyed making the acquaintance of this vibrant, colourful music very much. Though there is a serious side to Guarnieri’s art the music on this CD is enjoyable and outgoing. It should lift the spirits of the listener.

I wholeheartedly recommend this disc to all collectors with a taste for the colourful and extrovert in music and I look forward to more encounters with the music of Camargo Guarnieri.

John Quinn

Camargo GUARNIERI (1907-1993) Symphony No. 2 Uirapuru (1945) [29.27] Symphony No. 3 (1952) [32.57] Abertura Concertante (1942, rev before 1951) [11.45] Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paolo/John Neschling rec Feb 2001, Sala São Paulo, Brazil BIS BIS-CD-1220 [75.13] [RB]

Likely to appeal strongly to those who are already captivated by Villa-Lobos and by the Latino Copland ... see Full Review.

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