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Mozart Camargo GUARNIERI (1907 - 1993)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1931) [19’46"]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1946) [22’57"]
Piano Concerto No. 3 (1964) [27’06"]
Max Barros (piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Conlin
recorded in the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall from 20th – 21st August 2004 (No. 1), and 24th to 25th June, 2004, No. 2, and 4th – 5th January 2003 , No. 3. DDD
NAXOS 8.557666 [69’49"]


Camargo Guarnieri, is a recently deceased South American composer whose first three of six piano concerti have just been released by Naxos, with Polish forces. Some other of his works of his have been released by BIS (a couple of symphonies) and some orchestral works (on Dorian). This disc forms part of Naxos’s Latin American Series and it is very well performed and recorded. The Polish recordings which Naxos are issuing are all really pretty good, and both the Polish National Radio orchestra and the Warsaw Philharmonic as here, is excellent. I was surprised not to see Antoni Wit as the conductor as he seems to be the favoured conductor for discs from this area. Thomas Conlin, a student of Leonard Bernstein and Erich Leinsdorf seems to be an all rounder, rather than having any particular area of repertoire to concentrate upon, but on the evidence here, he seems eminently capable of persuading an ensemble to perform what must have been unfamiliar repertoire as though they had it in their bones.

On this disc we have the three piano concerti written by Guarnieri throughout his life, the earliest of the three, No. 1, here receiving its recorded premiere, has had a chequered history. The score is lost, and the concerto was reconstituted from the orchestral parts. In addition, two separate piano reduction scores, already available, showed two different endings, and so a choice had to be made as to which one to use. Evidence was taken from a recording of a private performance with Guarnieri conducting. This concerto is the most Brazilian in nature using as it does traditional Brazilian instruments such as the cuica (a friction drum), the chocalho (a rattle) and the reco-reco (a scraper). To be honest, I thought that the concerto sounded more like Gershwin in parts, but none the less for that.

By the time we reach Concerto No. 2, a more sophisticated work is clearly evident. One of the features of these concerti is the relative paucity of the lyrical inspiration. In this respect, this disc shares this problem with many of the otherwise splendid Romantic Piano Concerto series from Hyperion. In terms of playing quality and music, I wouldn’t have been in the least surprised if this had not been a Hyperion issue. The interplay between soloist and orchestra is very well handled by all concerned, and we shouldn’t be in the least surprised that the concerto won the Alexandre Levy Award, granted by the City of Sao Paulo.

The lack of really memorable themes a la Rachmaninov or Tchaikovsky, allows the composer to concentrate on technical matters and both soloist and orchestra are taxed with complex rhythms and complex interplay. Naxos’s recording carries the day splendidly allowing us to hear this with utmost clarity.

No. 3 is more discordant than the other two, but not too much so that enjoyment is curtailed with these decidedly late romantic concerti. The slow movement includes an extended oboe solo which recalls the languor and melancholy of the Brazilian modinha, a type of salon song. When we reach the finale, the joint is really jumping with the South American Rhythms to the fore. The Polish Orchestra is really first rate in dealing with the complex sound patterns demanded by the composer.

With an excellent soloist who never puts a foot (or more to the point hand) wrong, this disc receives an unconditional welcome. Will we now get Concerti 4 – 6, I wonder.

John Phillips


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