This may be the finest release to date in Naxos’ ongoing Brazilian music series. César Guerra-Peixe (pronounce it “Gweha-Peysh,” more or less) had a relatively long and productive life–1914-93. He was a violinist, teacher, arranger, creator of music for radio, television and film, and an ethnomusicologist, among other things. In his early years, he dabbled in serial (twelve-tone) composition, and it served him well in these two colorful symphonic suites. Both works date from the 1950s, and celebrate the rhythms and percussive sonorities of Brazilian dance music–from the states of São Paulo and Pernambuco respectively–but with a combination of harmonic sophistication and crystal-clear orchestration that makes them models of their kind. Guerra-Peixe’s folk inspirations come out sounding thoroughly modern, more like Bartók, for example, than the early romantic nationalists, and so the result, with its ample use of ostinatos and repetitive gestures, gives the impression of simplicity without ever turning simplistic. They are fresh, vital, and wholly winning.
Roda de Amigos (“Circle of Friends”) is a witty suite in four movements capturing the characters of some of Guerra-Peixe’s musician colleagues: grumpy, stubborn, melancholic, and mischievous respectively. Scored for small ensemble, each movement features a difficult and brilliant woodwind solo, starting with the bassoon and working through the section with clarinet next, then oboe, then flute. The music is genuinely witty, and admirably suited to the emotional character that each movement describes. Kudos to the woodwind soloists of the Goiás Philharmonic, who sound absolutely world-class in each of their turns in the spotlight. Indeed. conductor Neil Thomson galvanizes his forces to deliver performances of all of this music that, in their clarity, vitality and drive, present this splendid music in the best possible light, and the sonics are really vivid too. If you’re looking for a new discovery that you’ll play and enjoy often, then you’ll definitely want to get this terrific disc forthwith.