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
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
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.
see also review
by John Phillips