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What Brazilian composers are there, besides Villa-Lobos? Chief among them is M Camargo Guarnieri (1907-93). The initial M (for Mozart) is typical Brazilian whimsy (Guarnieri’s brothers were christened Rossini and Bellini!), but his music is serious and its idiom eclectic.

The most appealing pieces come first. Dança Negra (1946) is catchy and voodoo-inspired; Dança Brasileira (1928) is energetic and untypically cheerful, most other pieces here being either wistful or shot through with persistent and near-atonal ostinatos. The 50 Ponteios (1931-59) take up the most space: the title, borrowed from guitarists, signifies improvisatory warm-ups, and these sometimes taxing but mostly dreamy pieces follow suit. Recording them complete is tidy-minded and commercially sensible, but they are best heard (and played) in small doses. Try the popular Nos 30 and 24, then 20 (which recalls Copland), 34 (Arvo Pärt), 32 (Milhaud), 40 (Debussy) and 43 (Shostakovich).

California-born Brazilian Max Barros has already recorded all six Guarnieri concertos for Naxos. Here, he offers scrupulous though undemonstrative playing: these unfamiliar tunes arguably need more characterisation in order to stick in the mind. The 1972 Sonata, by far the largest piece, recalls tough Bartók; the five-minute 1953 Suite Mirim (a Tupi Indian word meaning ‘little’) is, like much else here, quite easy to play. Irmãos Vitale publishes the Sonata, Ricordi Brasileira the rest. Plenty more remains for Vol 2: eight sonatinas, at least 15 studies, and any number of valses. I look forward to them.

MICHAEL ROUND Read the full review on Agora Classica


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