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[Mozart] Camargo GUARNIERI (1907-1993)
Symphony No. 5* (1977) [21’20”]
Suíte Vila Rica (1957/58) [20’16”]
Symphony No. 6 (1981) [20’36”]
*Coro da Orquestra de São Paolo
São Paolo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling
Recorded 14-19 April 2003, Sala São Paolo, Brazil. DDD
BIS CD-1320 [62’49”]


I first encountered the music of Camargo Guarnieri when I reviewed the previous volume in this series, which coupled the First and Fourth symphonies: I was sufficiently impressed to go out and buy the previous release which included the Second and Third symphonies and to which Rob Barnett had already given a warm welcome:

In reviewing that initial release Rob alerted potential buyers that Guarnieri’s music contains “the same irrepressible energy and joie de vivre that you get from Villa-Lobos, Ives or Grainger.” I agreed with that verdict then and I still do. However, having now heard six of the Brazilian’s symphonies I’d suggest that he is a more organised, more disciplined composer than the three composers cited by Rob. It’s also worth pointing out to those who may be new to his music that he shares with them a strong rhythmic sense and a penchant for colourful and resourceful orchestration. 

The two symphonies here recorded (both for the first time) follow what seems to have been Guarnieri’s preferred three-movement structure in which two quick movements frame a slow central movement, which is often the longest of the three. I haven’t heard the Seventh, which awaits a recording so I don’t know if the same ground plan is followed there. 

The Fifth Symphony is particularly interesting in that it includes a choral finale. Apparently Guarnieri was keen to do this in his Fourth symphony (1959) but couldn’t find a suitable text. When he was commissioned to write a fifth symphony in 1977 he conceived the work as a homage to the state of São Paolo and to his home town of Tietè. Accordingly, he asked his brother, Rossine to furnish him with a text and the poem, Rio teimoso (Stubborn river) was the result. The river Tietè is known as the stubborn river because it flows away from the sea. All this information is derived from the excellent liner notes by the Brazilian musicologist, Flávìa Camargo Toni, who has written the notes for all the issues in this series to date.  

After a slow introduction the first movement erupts into some characteristically busy contrapuntal music which may remind listeners of Hindemith or Stravinsky. It’s a tribute to Guarnieri’s skills both as a composer and as an orchestrator that, busy though the writing may be, the lines are always clear.  I particularly admired the couple of minutes of rather mysterious lento near the end of this movement in which the opening material is reprised, albeit in varied form, before the emphatic conclusion. The slow movement is marked Lento nostalgico and I’d say the second of those two words is the key one. Much of the music is subdued in tone and there’s an especially effective, albeit brief, interlude at 3’40” which features a haunting distant-sounding trumpet solo over a hushed string accompaniment. There are a couple of full orchestral tuttis but for the most part the movement inhabits a mood of quiet reflection, distinguished by a series of quiet orchestral solos, mainly given to the woodwinds.  It’s a haunting, atmospheric movement which the Brazilian orchestra plays very well. The finale opens in a vigorous mood which the orchestra projects strongly. Here the angular lines demand (and receive) rhythmic precision. The singers enter at 2’05” (initially the ladies only) and when the full choir sings they bring the proceedings to a strong conclusion. 

The Sixth Symphony dates from 1981. Its first movement follows an interesting tri-partite structure, which is repeated, details of which are conveniently set out in the notes. The slow movement plays for 11’22” and thus accounts for over half the symphony’s duration. In my review of the First and Fourth symphonies I commented that at first I wondered if Guarnieri’s slow movements outstayed their welcome but that on repeated listening I’d been convinced otherwise. Well, no such doubts here. It’s evident at once, I think, that this movement, marked Triste is a piece of real substance.  The music is shot through with a pronounced vein of melancholy. The scoring is powerful and inventive; a further reminder of the composer’s skills as an orchestrator. Climaxes are brief, but telling, however for the most part the music is restrained and reflective – and all the more effective as a result. The brief finale is mainly fast and perky though there is a slower, potent central section. 

The other item on the disc is the Suíte Vila Rica. This dates from 1958 when Guarnieri drew on music that he’d written the previous year for a feature film, Rebellion in Vila Rica. The suite comprises ten short movements, the longest of which lasts 3’35”. It’s a most attractive set of miniatures, the highlights of which I thought were the perky Scherzando, an engaging Valsa and the sultry, swaying Saudoso. The whole suite is infectiously played here and provides a splendid foil for the more serious symphonies. 

As was the case with the two previous volumes, the São Paolo Symphony Orchestra plays these scores with splendid commitment. They are most capably directed by their Artistic Director, John Neschling, whose advocacy of this music seems to me to be extremely committed. As I’ve indicated already, the notes are excellent and the recorded sound is in the best traditions of the house.   

I’ve enjoyed my further exploration of the output of Camargo Guarnieri very much indeed and it’s hard to think that he could be better served than by the present performers. I hope that Bis will now go on to complete the cycle by recording the Seventh Symphony. In the meantime, I congratulate them on yet another in their long list of enterprising releases and warmly recommend this CD to all listeners with an enquiring ear. 

John Quinn



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