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Camargo Guarnieri: Piano Music, Vol. 1 / Max Barros

Guarnieri / Barros
Release Date: 01/29/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572626   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Camargo Mozart Guarnieri
Performer:  Max Barros
Number of Discs: 2 
Length: 2 Hours 8 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GUARNIERI Ponteio s: Books 1-5. Dança Negra. Dança Brasileira. Dança Selvagem. Suite Mirim. Piano Sonata Max Barros (pn) NAXOS 8.572626-27 (2 CDs: 126:48)

Another series begins from Naxos, this time featuring the solo piano music of Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993), played by Brazilian/American pianist Max Barros, who has already recorded Guarnieri’s five piano concertos for the same label. Read more

The bulk of this two-disc set is taken up by the 50 Ponteio s—a term the composer adopted from local guitarists meaning prelude—composed between 1931 and 1959 and grouped into five books of 10. According to the helpful sleeve note by James Melo, Guarnieri was a noted improviser at the piano, and these miniatures clearly reflect that. Many of the Ponteio s tend to be dreamy and introverted, indicated by the instructions Calmo, com profunda saudade, Dolent, Contemplativ, Triste and so on, with occasional contrasting exceptions. Guarnieri makes use of Brazilian rhythms—notably the 3+3+2 rhythm—and uses sequential motifs like his older compatriot Villa-Lobos but without the latter’s busy and colorful elaborations. The composer’s harmonic language shows a French influence in its tonal ambiguity. These preludes form a distinguished collection; many are very beautiful and would be most welcome in a keyboard recital as encores or a short selection between larger works. They are more economical than the highly infectious but rather garrulous piano concertos.

The disc opens with three dances, two of which are well known in their orchestral versions: the tuneful Dança Negra and Dança Brasileira (the latter once recorded by Bernstein). The third of these, Dança Selvagem (1931) displays an aggressive side to the composer. Based on a native rhythm notated by an ethnomusicologist in Central Brazil, its relentless, uncontrolled energy and sharpness of attack evoke Bartók. In his later piano compositions, Guarnieri would increasingly go down this path.

From the early 1950s onward, the composer felt the need to toughen his musical syntax, if for no other reason than to keep up with modern trends. This brought harsher dissonance into his most serious compositions, along with an increased clarity of structure and texture—yet he did not altogether abandon his folk-music roots nor the sense of a tonal center. The change began with an impressive set of 10 etudes (which will no doubt figure in the next installment of this series) and can be heard to full effect in the Sonata of 1972. Lasting 16 minutes in three movements, Guarnieri’s only work in this form is succinct, memorable, and substantial. The slow movement unfolds in the style of the quieter Ponteios , but is more unsettled harmonically and more fully worked out. It is flanked by two fast movements, the latter of which begins with a stern chorale leading into a three-part fugue on a jazzy syncopated theme. Eventually the chorale returns, punctuated by fragments of the fugue theme winding down to form a coda. The Sonata is a sophisticated piece of work, which again ought to be more widely performed.

Barros certainly does a fine job of bringing this music to our attention, and to life, on these warmly recorded discs. His use of the sustain pedal is especially effective in coloring and illuminating the textures. While Villa-Lobos’s piano music is unique, the work of Guarnieri can stand confidently beside it in terms of quality.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Dansa negra by Camargo Mozart Guarnieri
Performer:  Max Barros (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; Brazil 
Dansa brasileira by Camargo Mozart Guarnieri
Performer:  Max Barros (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; Brazil 
Dansa selvagem by Camargo Mozart Guarnieri
Performer:  Max Barros (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; Brazil 
Ponteios by Camargo Mozart Guarnieri
Performer:  Max Barros (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931-1959 
Suite Mirim by Camargo Mozart Guarnieri
Performer:  Max Barros (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953 
Sonata for Piano by Camargo Mozart Guarnieri
Performer:  Max Barros (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1972 

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