Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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JOSE VIANNA DA MOTTA (1868-1948) Symphony in A major À PÁTRIA (To the Fatherland) (1895)
RDP Symphony Orchestra/Silva Pereira  rec 28-30 June 1, 4-6 July 1977, Lisbon ADD PORTUGALSOM STRAUSS SP 4117 [49:03]

Hungarian State Orchestra/Mátyás Antal  rec 21-24 April 1988, Lisbon DDD PORTUGALSOM STRAUSS CD 870016/PS [40:55]


Vianna da Motta was born in Sao Tomé, one of Portugal's African colonies. A composer of prodigious talent he studied at the Lisbon Conservatory from 1875 to 1881 - an incredibly early age. In 1882 he went to Berlin studying at the Scharwenka Institute. Three years later he went to Weimar where he continued his studies with Liszt and two years later spent time with Von Bulow at Frankfurt. After a sojourn in Geneva he was appointed director of the Lisbon Conservatory a position he held for many years.

His name will be known, if at all, as one of that select Round Table of Liszt pupils. His career as a virtuoso continued undimmed until the last decade of his life. True to his instrument and his talent he wrote the Piano Concerto in A major, a Fantasia Dramática and the Balada Op. 16 all of which will feature on the twenty fourth volume of Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series (CDA67163). Again I hope to review this issue.

In the present review two discs produced by PORTUGALSOM - STRAUSS record two performances of Vianna da Motta's 1895 symphony, premiered in Oporto in 1897. This is, accordingly, a head-to-head review reflecting something of a privileged situation: two recordings of the same symphony and both recordings from the same company. Both have been supported by the Secretaria de Estado da Cultura - a great credit to Portugal and its support of native composers.

What can we expect from the Symphony? It is a longish work - over forty minutes. There are four movements the first and last of which are late-romantic statements in which the influences of Liszt and Tchaikovsky (and a few others) hum and resound. Either could stand freely as a tone poem. The big second movement is a tender hyper-Dvorákian love-song of (for its time) sensuous poetry - think perhaps of Franck's Psyché. The third movement (a sort of rhapsodic scherzo) uses two catchy popular songs from Viseu and Figueira da Foz. It is quite prophetic of Iberian musical accents familiar from Chabrier's España (dating from 1883) and many much later works. The movements are each a reflection of a different poem by Camões. The work is perhaps of lower middle ranking perhaps in the same bracket as Parry's First Symphony (rather a loveable piece) and Stanford's Seventh Symphony (both available on Chandos though the Parry is best heard on a Nimbus disc).

The two performances are quite different. Take the timings:-

Pereira Antal
I 10.14 9.18
II 16.44 13.27
III 6.33 5.59
IV 15.23 11.51

The first movement is an allegro eroico but I detected little heroism about it; rather a vainglorious confidence touched with the same wand as Wagner's Meistersinger Prelude and the more portentous moments in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. Antal's Hungarian orchestra (fascinating to find out why Hungarian and Roumanian orchestras and recording venues were used so extensively by Portugalsom) is richer in the string department than the RDP orchestra. Antal is also more at home with the goad and spur and this celerity certainly pays off in most of the movements, losing ground only in the poetic second which can more than carry Pereira's reflective and indulgently romantic approach. That second movement (Psyché, yes - but also Sibelius Rakastava and Dvorák 's Ninth) is very string dominated and the harp's role is prominent (emphasised in the Pereira recording). The high solo violin passage at the end of the movement reminds us of the Bruch Violin Concerto. A most successful piece in its own right. The third movement is explicitly nationalistic, bright, snappy and wheezing with rustic character - a parallel with the Alfvén Swedish Rhapsodies and Armas Järnefelt's orchestral sketches but with a hint of Glazunov (The Seasons - Autumn). Antal is to be preferred here as he is also in the finale. The finale's bluff and bluster is intermittently engaging and suggests Tchaikovsky's Manfred. To bring the work full circle there are reappearances by themes from the first movement.

The Antal is to be preferred. He keeps things moving along at a nice clip. The poetry is not lost on him. His orchestra sounds better and assuredly so in the case of the strings. The recording quality is all digital and superior to the ADD Pereira from eleven years before.

The sound quality on the Pereira is respectable but not as good as the Antal. The strings have a stridency and aggression noticeable even after some fine-tuning with the tone controls. I note that composer, Joly Braga Santos was the Musical Assistant for the Pereira recording. Pereira, of course, presided over the recording of Braga Santos's extremely fine Fourth Symphony - also available on PORTUGALSOM.

The notes in both Portuguese and English (typo-ridden, I am afraid) are respectable and speak in accessible language for the general listener.

To confuse things a little the covers of the two discs are similar with a polarised photo of a clipper (a reminder of Portugal's great maritime traditions) for the Pereira and an unprocessed photograph of a clipper on the Antal.

Go for the Antal.


Rob Barnett



PS: I have been listening recently to many other discs in PORTUGALSOM's catalogue and will be reviewing before very much longer the four symphonies of late-romantic Luis de Freitas Branco and various orchestra works by Stravinskian neo-classicist Fernando Lopes-Graca.

The prices are: UK pounds 6 and US dollars 10 (freight not included).

The transport costs are :
For UK----- 1 or 2 CDs ------UK £1.60; 3 CDs ----£2.50
For USA---- 1 or 2 CDs-----US$3.50 ; 3 CDs --- $5.50

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orch score and parts available from
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Rob Barnett



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