I first encountered the music of Camargo Guarnieri when I reviewed
the previous volume in this series, which coupled the First
and Fourth symphonies: www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Mar04/Guarnieri_symphony1-4.htm.
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: www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/Oct02/Guarnieri.htm
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
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.