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This review is from: Braga Santos: Alfama (Symphonic Overture No. 3/ Elegy) (NAXOS 8572815) (Audio CD)
The leading Portugese composer, Joly Braga Santos (1924-88) has been quite well represented on disc. His six symphonies were recorded by Marco Polo and reissued by Naxos, and here on the present CD we have a selection of his shorter orchestral works. Braga Santos's career falls broadly into two distinct periods divided by a period of study abroad under Virgilio Martari at the end of the 1950s, after which his style became more \"modernist\". The works recorded here cover his compositional career, thus offering the listener an opportunity to compare these styles.
In his earlier period, Braga Santos wrote in an attractive tonal idiom, informed by modalism and Portugese folksong, a tendency well reflected in the first three pieces here. The Symphonic Overture No.3 (1954), after a lovely, slow introduction,is predominantly bright and breezy, full of light and rhythm. The modal inflections give the music a rather English feel at times.
Elegy in Memory of Vianna da Motta (1948) is a more meditative work, written in memory of a well-known Portugese pianist. After a couple of strong pizzicato chords, the intense opening theme strikes up, predominantly in the lower strings. A stirring climax leads in to a second section dominated by a modal theme which begins in the woodwind, underpinned by a persistent rhythm in the timpani. The theme grows dynamically, leading to a final section in which the elegiac ideas of the first are re-established.
\"Alfama\" (1956) is a ballet suite written at the time of Braga Santos's marriage simply as a means of earning an income, and later edited for concert performance by Alvaro Cassuto, the conductor on this recording. It consists of a slow, meditative introduction followed by a series of lively dances. Although the underlying story is not given in the liner notes, this does not detract from the music which can be enjoyed simply for its intrinsic value, and requires little comment.
The Variations for Orchestra (1976) comes from Braga Santos's second creative period, thus representing a much harder-edged style; yet, if it can be described as \"avant garde\" at all, it is only in a soft sense, and is hardly of the style which John Tavener has dubbed \"po-faced serialism\", although it does represent a distinct move away from the melodic accessibility of his earlier works.
The three short Symphonic Sketches (1962) are an early exercise in the composer's recently-developed \"modern\" style, and consist of two strident allegros separated by an eerie lento. The discordant, nerve-jangling mood of both this and the previous work is reminiscent, at times, of the grinding serialist flirtations of Malcolm Arnold.
This disc provides an excellent introduction to the music of Braga Santos, and is ideal for anyone wanting to dip a toe into the water before deciding whether to take the plunge with recordings of the composer's more substantial symphonic output. Alvaro Cassuto is a renowned Braga Santos advocate, while the Royal Scottish National Orchestra does full justice to the programme on offer here.