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Mozart Carmargo GUARNIERI (1907-1993)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1931)* [19í46"]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1946)** [22í57"]
Piano Concerto No. 3 (1964)*** [27í06"]
Max Barros (piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Conlin
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw *20-21 Aug 2004; ** 24-25 June 2004; *** 4-5 Jan 2003 DDD
NAXOS 8.557666 [69í49"]


Weíve already had excellent recordings of the first six of Guarnieriís seven symphonies. Rob Barnett warmly welcomed the Second and Third (review) while I myself enjoyed the coupling of the First and Fourth (review) and, subsequently, the disc that paired the Fifth and Sixth (review). All these were full priced Ė and excellent - CDs from BIS and I hope that label will eventually complete the cycle. In the meantime itís excellent news that Naxos has issued this disc, which couples the first three of the composerís six piano concerti.

My colleague, John Phillips, has already explained that the First concerto, which here receives its première recording, was nearly lost. (review) I think the reconstruction work that was done to restore the work was very worthwhile. Like its two companions included here (and, indeed, like all six of the symphonies that Iíve heard) the work follows a three-movement pattern. In this case the three movements play without a break. The first is big and confident, even brash. As early as 1í31" the music relaxes a bit and here I detect the first of many resonances of Gershwin, a trait that John Phillips picked up also. The movement features some buoyant Latin rhythms and plenty of exuberant scoring. The slow movement sounds like a gently swaying nocturne. Itís in the finale where the Latin American idiom really comes to the fore, emphasised by the inclusion of some exotic percussion instruments. Itís a riotous, toccata-like movement in which all is colour and drive. Arguably the festivities are a little overdone but itís all very exciting.

The Second concerto is described in the notes as "vibrant and exciting." That it is, but itís not as frenetic as its predecessor was at times. Amid the passages of brilliant passagework for the soloist in the first movement one notices more stretches of repose. Also the orchestral scoring, while bright, is not quite so "in your face." The slow movement starts in sultry vein. The music has a slight air of melancholy but this is interrupted by a skittish episode (from 3í24" to 5í05"). The return of the opening mood is delightfully scored with the piano applying some very effective decoration to the subdued palette of the orchestra. The movement draws to a rather lovely tranquil close. The finale, which follows without a pause, is another brilliant toccata. Might I characterise it as "Prokofiev wearing a sombrero"? This is a movement of tremendous drive but one doesnít feel that the composer is throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, which tended to be the impression left by the corresponding movement of the First concerto.

The Third concerto is a bit more overtly dissonant than its two predecessors. The first movement is, once again, percussive and energetic for the most part. The slow movement is quite substantial in length, occupying 11í45" in this performance. An extended, plaintive oboe solo is heard at the start and from this much of the movement derives. For much of the time the music is rather sparingly scored. Itís atmospheric but I did wonder if the piece was a little too long for its material. The work concludes with a trademark finale in that the movement is predominantly boisterous in tone.

The BIS discs featured a Brazilian orchestra, who were certainly au fait with the music of their fellow-countryman. Here we have a Polish orchestra, directed by an American conductor, accompanying a US-born pianist who was raised in Brazil. To my ears the results sound perfectly authentic. The Polish players sound completely at home with the idiom and give convincing and committed accounts of music with which they can scarcely have been familiar. Max Barros is a prodigious soloist, seemingly making light of the technical demands of these scores. He has the measure of these scores and puts them across with relish. Thomas Conlin gives him sterling support. The performances, though recorded at different times, enjoy a consistency of sound and that sound is very good, allowing plenty of detail to register in what are often teeming scores.

I think John Phillips has it right when he points out that Guarnieriís melodic material is not, perhaps, the most memorable. Thatís a characteristic of the symphonies also, Iíve found. However, like the symphonies these scores are packed with incident, vivid colour and strong rhythms. This is a CD that is as attractive and enjoyable as it is enterprising and at the Naxos price itís an excellent way to be introduced to this composer. I hope Naxos will follow up this release by giving us the remaining three piano concerti. For now this disc will do nicely.

John Quinn

see also review by John Phillips



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