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Radamés GNATTALI (1906-1988)
Concertino No. 1 for guitar and orchestra (1951) [20:24]
Concertino No. 2 for guitar and orchestra (1952) [19:11]
Concertino No. 3 Concerto da Copacabana for guitar, flute, timpani and string orchestra (1956) [23:39]
Concerto No. 4 Concerto a Brasileira for guitar and strings (1967) [13:40]
Marco Salcito (guitar)
Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese/Marcello Bufalini
rec. 2016, Foyer, Theatre of L'Aquila, Italy

At least one other Brazilian composer - Mozart Camargo Guarnieri - had a distinctive name. Now this well-filled Brilliant Classics disc widens the frame of reference for Radamés Gnattali. He is not completely unknown in the classical recording world. Bis produced a disc of Gnattali's guitar, piano and cello music (SACD BIS 2086). He was also a symphonist with at least five examples to his name (1942, 1962, 1969, 1969, 1983) but as yet these have not attracted a record label. He had hopes of a career as a concert pianist but instead came to a measure of fame and affection as a friend and associate of popular music composers Nazareth and Jobim. While moving comfortably as an arranger in the mass-market world, he also helped develop classical music within Brazil's concert life and national radio network.

There are too few guitar concertos despite the gifted efforts of Andrew Downes and Robert Beaser. A very useful and soundly researched liner-note by Emiliano Giannetti makes the point about the imbalance of guitar against orchestra. What we hear on disc, where the guitar can be given a muscle power that it cannot achieve live without amplification, is not representative. Even so we have well-loved examples by Rodrigo, Ponce, Arnold and Castelnuovo-Tedesco. To this list Giannetti adds the Concierto Clásico written in 1930 by Mexican composer Rafael Adame; that work may well merit an airing at least so that today's listeners can appraise it.

These four Gnattali works dance around the Concerto/Concertino boundary. Each is in three movements. They now join the fray after keeping their heads down for at least fifty years. In these works Gnattali, with open arms, pursues accessible and transparently scored beauty. He feels no draw towards dissonant experimentation.

The impressionistic Concertino No. 1 keeps a straighter concert face than the Fourth. It's a resourceful piece with plenty to hold the listener's affections. The chilly night-life muse of a central Andante is followed by a very catchy Com Espirito in which the woodwind contributes chipper phrases. The Second Concertino, written the year after its predecessor, mixes the sultry with a tender flicker of rhythmic life. A drum-launched finale has a slightly caustic edge but nothing to discourage those won over by the first two movements. It includes some particularly attractive woodwind phrases and a perfectly weighted final couple of pages. If you know Ponce's princely Concierto del Sur then you will know that part of the value of a composer is being able with the flick of a wrist and the twist of a phrase to bring a large concerto structure to a satisfying applause-inducing close. Ponce had it and so did Gnattali.

Four years later came the Concerto da Copacabana for guitar, flute, timpani and strings. Warmth and dignity irradiate this work. It has charms, as in the sway of the finale, but this is not about to be an easy conquest. The Fourth Concerto, dedicated to Laurindo Almeida, is a work of fresh and springy resilience in both the solo and ensemble aspects. It's constantly engaging and concentration never slips. Boundaries are meltingly and seductively crossed. There's a particularly winsome central Lento which simultaneously incites and cools ardour. The brief and incisive rhythmic finale delightfully rounds out the experience.

There is nothing here to discourage further exploration of Gnattali's music. In fact, this disc will win new friends and performers. With their concise and inventive ways, these Latin-accented concertos are perfect vehicles for competitions as well as reaching out to listeners. Thanks to Salcito and his collaborators for turning a completely unexpected leaf in the literature of the guitar concerto and doing it with such well recorded insight and sultry allure.

Rob Barnett



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