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Armando Jose FERNANDES (1906-1983)
Violin Concerto in E minor (1948) [31:16]
Luis de FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955)
Symphony No. 2 (1926) [42:29]
Alexandre da Costa (violin)
Extremadura Symphony Orchestra/Jesus Amigo
rec. Palacio de Congreso, Badajoz, Spain, 18-20 June 2007. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

This is a good omen. A major company issuing a Portuguese symphony and violin concerto.

I knew the symphony from the Portugalsom recording issued in the 1990s but Fernandes' Violin Concerto was completely unknown to me. It's a sweetly lyrical work with a fragrance of the Delius concerto but more dynamic. The middle movement has a Gallic feeling with a nod towards the Lalo concerto. The first movement is, in the last analysis, rather time-servingly lyrical though pleasing. The real heart of the work can be found in the finale which is fragile and deeply affecting. In its emotional reach can be compared with the Miaskovsky concerto. It has the same scent of romantic nostalgia yet is completely fresh and very moving. It is a most moving piece and is presented by Alexandre da Costa with creditable concentration and purity of line. The composer's integrity is never in doubt and he has the well judged confidence to end the andantino third movement in a pensive fade. The finale has a more determined air. This is a work that recalls both the Moeran and the Miaskovsky but filtered through an imagination sympathetic to Saint-SaŰns, Lalo and Chausson. It vies with the equally neglected and equally cantabile Violin Concerto (1916) by Freitas Branco. The Fernandes concerto is dedicated to the artist who premiered it in 1949 under Pedro de Freitas Branco, Leonor de Sousa Prado. 

In the 1930s Fernandes was a member of the Group of Four which also included the brilliant Ferdinand Lopes-Graša. While in Paris with Government funding he studied with Stravinsky, Dukas and Boulanger. He was professor of composition at the Lisbon Conservatory from 1953 to 1976.

Luis de Freitas Branco's Second Symphony is in four movements and was written when the composer was 36. It certainly has the springy dynamism of a real symphony. The writing sports a warmly surging Franckian redolence. After a comforting andante comes a Mephistophelean Allegro vivace which at times (2:33) leans towards Borodin and Berlioz. The work ends with a ten minute Adagio with wilder dancing interpolations - themselves prefiguring the masterly writing of Joly Braga-Santos - amid the hymn-like benedictions. It's worth recalling that it is dedicated to the composer'sá sister Marie Candida just as she was taking Holy Orders to join the Carmelite community in Navarre. The symphony was premiered by Pedro Blanch's orchestra in Lisbon on 26 February 1928.

This is well recorded and the performances are polished. The Fernandes in particular is glowingly given. Let's hear more from both composers and in the meantime will the Portuguese government not reissue the proud Lusitanian treasury that is the Portugalsom catalogue. They have much in their musical heritage to be proud of on an international stage.

Rob Barnett

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