What a discovery!
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 02/27/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Perhaps I'm a little late joining the growing number of fans of the orchestral music of Portuguese composer Joly Braga Santos (1924-1988) but this is the first of the ongoing series of recordings of his music on Marco Polo to come my way. And what a discovery! This is terrific music.Braga Santos [I'm told it's pronounced BRAHga SAHNtoosh] said that he was interested in writing music that had a certain monumentality, and in this he certainly succeeds, at least in the Second Symphony. His first four symphonies were written in his twenties and I've read that they are all fairly similar, so what I say here may apply generally to all of those early symphonies. He wrote the Fifth and Sixth later in life, and they are reputedly a bit more forward-looking in style. Let it be said that nothing in this CD would scare anyone who likes Vaughan Williams or Sibelius. There is a good deal of modal writing and some edginess similar to RVW's and Sibelius's Fourth Symphonies. Some composers have the ability to grab you within the first few seconds of any piece they write. From the evidence of this symphony and the ballet score, Crossroads, he had that ability. He also seems able to create a formal arrangement of his ideas that has both a certain inevitability or rightness about it and at the same time spring surprises. It sounds like I might be describing the characteristics of a major composer, and indeed I may be. I haven't had enough exposure, at this point, to enough of his music to make that asseveration with confidence, but you may be assured that I am going to waste no time in obtaining more of his recorded works. I honestly think some of his music may turn out to be worth nomination for core repertoire status.Conductor Álvaro Cassuto was a student of Braga Santos and on the evidence of this recording it is clear that he has a real affinity for his music. I understand that this is the only one of the series that was played by the Bournemouth Symphony, but they play as if they've always known these pieces. The recorded sound is quite good.Strongly recommended."
Gorgeous music deserving the widest possible dissemination
Russ | Richmond, VA | 11/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The music of Portuguese composer Joly Braga Santos (1924-1988) has gained a small but fervent following in recent years. And this following is not without reason; Braga Santos composed some of the most beautiful and alluring music of the first half of the twentieth century. Those who know a little bit about this composer know that Braga Santos' music can be stylistically divided into two periods:
1). an early period (Symphonies 1-4, Divertimento No. 1, Concerto for Strings);
2). and a later atonal period (Symphonies 5-6, Cello Concerto and Divertimento No. 2).
If you like, say, the pastoral music of Vaughan Williams, you will love the early period works of Braga Santos, including the two works contained on this release. Note that although the Crossroads ballet dates from the later period, it contains more similarities with the early period works. Each of the two works contained on this release is chocked full of memorable, colorfully orchestrated melodies. As an example, listen to the unbelievably charming melody of the second symphony's scherzo (Track 3).
Braga Santos' music is not only notable for its melodic content, but also for its strong sense of drama, its interesting harmony and its rhythmic drive. The music is often propelled by recurring sixteenth note fragments and ostinato passages in the lower voices. Harmonic interest is provided through unexpected shifts if the lower voices and the incorporation of lovely modal progressions. Also of interest is the way in which Braga Santos often overlays one melodic line over another. Through the layering of different melodic ideas, Braga Santos is able to gather great intensity in certain sections of his orchestral works.
Despite being composed at an early age, the symphony is a masterful work. The work opens in dramatic fashion with a sweeping horn line heroically soaring above an aggressive recurring sixteenth note motif in the strings. The mournful central section of the opening movement contains haunting writing for solo woodwinds and the memorable harmonic shifts that give Braga Santos' symphonies a distinctive feel. Of course, the adagio contains an unbelievably lovely melody, while the scherzo, mentioned above, is outstanding for its simple beauty. The finale is filled with vigor and reaches a satisfying conclusion. The Crossroads ballet was composed later, and is largely based on Portuguese folk material collected by Braga Santos. Each of the ballet's five movements is great, but the colorfully orchestrated Lisbon Dance and the doleful Pas de duex deserve special mention. And finally, it would be hard to believe if the gorgeous lyricism of the final movement's second theme doesn't immediately win you over to the Braga Santos cause.
Of all the purchases of off-the-beaten-track music I have made in recent years (and there have been several), the Marco Polo releases of Braga Santos orchestral works truly stand out as being something special. If you enjoy tuneful, well-constructed orchestral works, this disc will give you years of listening pleasure.
Highest and most enthusiastic recommendation!!
A Different Context
johcafra | New Jersey, USA | 08/02/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first heard this symphony over the radio the weekend after September 11, 2001. It literally made me stop what I was doing, sit down, and listen to the very end. It still does."