Max Barros / Thomas Conlin / Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra

Camargo Guarnieri: Piano Concertos Nos. 4, 5 & 6

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With a name like Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (his brothers were named Verdi and the slightly misspelled Rossine), a compositional career was probably inevitable. Though a prominent figure in Brazilian concert life, and one preferred by Copland to Villa-Lobos, Camargo Guarnieri has found only intermittent performances in the U.S. and Europe. His music is ideal for inclusion in the Naxos label's effort to rediscover various national traditions. Perhaps Camargo Guarnieri suffered because he lived long enough to change his style several times (although this was never an issue with Stravinsky). After an initial strong rejection of serialism, he accepted a loose version of its principles in the Piano Concerto No. 4 heard here. He passed through several phases of free atonality, and in the Piano Concerto No. 6 he returned to the upbeat style of his youth, including elements of Brazilian nationalism and French neo-classicism. The strong point of this music is the consistent personality that shows through no matter the style. Camargo Guarnieri never offers the dramatic collision of Brazilian consciousness and European sensibility that one finds in the works of Villa-Lobos. But these three piano concertos, dating from between 1968 and 1987 (when Camargo Guarnieri was 80 years old), have a basic feel in common in spite of the fact that the Piano Concerto No. 4 is quasi-serial, the Piano Concerto No. 5 is freely atonal, and the Piano Concerto No. 6 returned to the more clearly Brazilian style of the composer's earlier years. All the concertos weave the piano into a dense texture rather than setting it up in opposition to the orchestra. All have clear, easy-to-follow forms; they are neo-classical at heart despite the evolving language. And none of the pieces, even the Piano Concerto No. 4, completely dispenses with percussion-based Brazilian rhythms. Pianist Max Barros supplies the requisite tone, fluid and brilliant, and the Warsaw Philharmonic, seemingly an unlikely choice, is actually well-attuned to the crisp qualities of the music. An enjoyable item for fans of Latin American music.

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