This is a good, sound
coupling of music by two stars of the Portuguese musical
firmament, born over a generation apart; certainly better
than some of the odd conjunctions that Freitas Branco in
particular has suffered over the years on various labels.
1916 Violin Concerto, written in the same year as the Delius,
receives its première recording here. The orchestration
is immediately arresting but we soon get treated to a raft
of influences on the young composer – Bruch, Rimsky and
Dvořák in the main with a touch of Brahms and a little
Bruckner in the finale. This rather vulgar summary doesn’t,
obviously, do justice to Freitas Branco’s imaginative resources.
The answering phrases between soloist and orchestra are
adept and the lyric flights of the violin from, say, 5’00
onwards are a delight. The extensive cadenza from 6’00
onwards is far too early and a sure sign of imbalance and,
to be frank, some of the later writing in the opening movement
does sound more than a touch square.
the Scheherazade feel that pervades the slow movement
is tinged with Wagnerian harmonic depth and there’s a strongly
vocalised feel to the melodies over the rippling harp accompaniment.
The brass flare-ups are certainly Wagnerian enough though
the triumphalist march that starts the finale contains
a touch of Bruckner. Too much note-spinning rather limits
one’s admiration for the finale but it’s a youthful work
full of a certain undigested promise.
Santos’s two scores are cut from a more mature cloth, being
the work of a man upwards of thirty-five. The earlier of
the two is the impressive Divertimento No.1 a three-movement
work based on popular themes – very unusual for him. The
splendidly orchestrated writing is certainly drenched in
dance rhythms, whilst managing to retain independence and
a certain warm clarity; something of Vaughan Williams’s
mid period symphonic writing is here as well. The last
of the three movements gorges on skirl and Sibelius, building
to a driving climax (see review of Marco Polo recording
of both Divertimentos).
1968 ballet Crossroads is a story of bride, ruffians
and village merriment. It’s brief – not much more than
quarter of an hour – and cast in five scenes. There’s a
driving tarantella and a rather terse section for the Lisbon
neighbourhood dance before a cacophonous percussive outburst.
Things are simplified for a harmonically straightforward
Fandango and we end in open-air freshness in the final
General Dance scene. A most attractive work, this, and
unpretentious but full of contrastive devices, rhythms,
colours and moods (see review of Marco Polo recording of
Alexandre da Costa makes
a good case for the Violin Concerto. He doesn’t have a
romantically opulent tone but it is very centred and he
employs some super-fine and quick portamenti to lace the
solo line with provocative period devices. The Orquestra
Sinfónica de Extremadura under Jesús Amigo acquit themselves with credit, though the strings certainly
sound undernourished in the Concerto. The recording is
a touch blowsy. Decent notes. It all adds up to a courageous
and enjoyable release.