Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Braga Santos was a native of Lisbon and remained associated with the city throughout his life. He attended the Lisbon Conservatory and aspired to a career as a professional violinist. His time there brought him into contact with the composer Luis de Freitas Branco (soon to be the subject of a similar composer profile and feature review) who was his composition tutor.

According to the conductor Alvaro Cassuto: "His music can be viewed mainly as a fusion of European styles, particularly that of Western Europe. His unique gifts demonstrate themselves by the fact that the first four symphonies came between the age of 22 and 27, and were immediately performed by the Portuguese Radio Symphony."

At the age of 29 he studied conducting with Hermann Scherchen in Austria and it was as a conductor that he made his way in the world. Conducting took over his life to such an extent that composition largely ceased. In 1965 he returned to the creative art with the Fifth Symphony and a new idiom which was positively modern largely leaving behind the accessible and life-enhancing style of the first four symphonies.

Rob Barnett



JOLY BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988) Symphony No. 3 (1948)   London SO/Alvaro Cassuto  recorded Henry Wood Hall, 10 June 1986 PORTUGALSOM SP4182 [38:57]

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Cassuto occupies in relation to Braga Santos a reputation proximate to Vernon Handley in relation to Arnold Bax; not that the music of the two composers is similar. Cassuto has succeeded Silva Pereira as his champion both on the podium and in his writings.

Cassuto's Marco Polo cycle progresses slowly with four of the six symphonies already available and reviewed by the present reviewer.

The Third Symphony dates from the composer's gloriously melodic phase; the same stock as the Fourth Symphony.

As I have written previously the third symphony is an essentially melodic work which seems to me to breathe the salty Atlantic air and sea-spume. The music strikingly parallels the livelier parts of Moeran's G minor symphony (1937), of Vaughan Williams Symphonies 5 and 6 and of Kodaly's Symphony. There is a hint of Respighi's Church Windows and Concerto Gregoriano too.

The second movement's mysterious lento resounds initially to the ppp tolling of the tam-tam stroke (recalling Gösta Nystroem's Sinfonia Del Mare - I WILL get that work better known!) but soon asserts itself as a vehicle for a silkily luminescent string-led theme uncannily like one of Bernard Herrmann's blonde heroine/anti-heroine themes. The following Tempo di scherzo is astonishingly similar to the Moeran Sinfonietta and Serenade. Here and there you get touches of Sibelius's Tapiola, more Biblical epic style Respighi and rustic dances.

The finale is inaugurated by a monastically subdued adagio shifting easily into a ppp 'Pilgrim's March' for sweet high strings (just a twist of dissonance here) rising to a statement of dramatically swung eminence. The fugal fracas that follows does not impress but soon we are back to the alert straining at the leash of the scherzo and a (not altogether conclusion that synthesises the Great Gate of Kiev and the crashing finale of Sibelius's Second Symphony. If you start with this symphony, and like it, don't forget to move on to the Fourth Symphony.

The orchestra is in fine fettle and the technical aspects are handled with consummate skill by two very familiar names: John Boyden and Tony Faulkner. The recording is the only fully digital (DDD) recording in the present small collection of Portugalsom discs.

The Sixth Symphony with which the Third is coupled on Marco Polo is arduous-going so if you want to restrict yourself to exploring the inimitably tuneful Braga Santos this is the disc for you and at modest price! Of course playing time is short but the music is well worth your attention.


Robert Barnett

JOLY BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988) Symphony No. 4 in e minor (1949)  'George Enescu' Choir   Roumanian Radiotelevision SO/Silva Pereira  recorded Bucharest, November 1978 STRAUSS PORTUGALSOM SP4059 [47:31]

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You must hear this symphony - a positive and life-endorsing hymn to joy. But first some words of biographical introduction.

The present symphony is in four movements the first of which (lento - allegro con fuoco) is orchestrally stunning, blending the voices of Vaughan Williams (a very positive and recurrent influence), Bruckner (especially No. 4 in the opening 3 minutes), Hanson and even Frank Bridge's The Sea. The tranquil andante rises in a torment of string writing to a climax that takes something from Rózsa's ultra-romantic music for El Cid and RVW's Tallis Fantasia. The climax is one of towering and tolling power. The third movement offers, among many attractions, mellifluous harp runs, piercing trumpet calls, an impressionist melos recalling Debussy's La Mer and a winding and insistent beauty of a folk-tune. The finale is absolutely glorious with chattering trumpets (the Roumanian orchestra's players clearly challenged by what they are called on to do), Sibelian woodwind, a contrasting theme which sounds as if it might belong in the finale of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 1, a punchy woodwind rhythmical figure that sounds uncannily like the start of Moeran's G minor symphony and occasionally rather like the much underestimated symphony by Kodaly. I also remembered the 4th symphony of Bohuslav Martinu, especially in its closing pages. There is a naïve but intoxicating hymn sung in fervent Russian style by the Roumanian choir. The singing closes the piece in a dazed and dazzling gaze into the perpetual sunrise of youth.

Notes are by Maria Helena de Freitas and are in Portuguese and English. The text of the brief paean to youth is printed in both Portuguese and English although (sadly) not side by side.

Anyone at all warming to the works of Howard Hanson, Randall Thomson, Douglas Lilburn, Vaughan Williams or George Lloyd must hear this CD.

In terms of playing time a disc running just over three-quarters of an hour may seem of contentious value. Be reassured; this is a gorgeous symphony. Once heard, it will lurk in your 'singing in the bath' repertoire and flood back from your memory from time to time leaving you puzzled (and affronted) as to why it is not played in concert halls and on radio stations around the world.

The strongest recommendation.


Rob Barnett

see also review by Richard Adams

JOLY BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988) Symphony No. 5 Virtus Lusitaniae (1965-66)  RDP SO/Silva Pereira  recorded Bucharest, November 1978 STRAUSS PORTUGALSOM SP4059 [47:31]

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This is a symphony heavy with doom-laden foreboding. It opens with an insistent heartbeat close to the sound of a ticking clock (the enemy of the heartbeat). The music has a straining avant-garde lyricism familiar from the contemporaneous Three Symphonic Sketches. This style is also familiar from the music of Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Roberto Gerhard and perhaps Matthijs Vermeulen though without Vermeulen's ecstatic dazzle.

Nevertheless this work has some, more than promising, imaginative coups e.g. the upward-striking waves of violin-articulated agony (5.49 in track 1). It is worth emphasising that this work is utterly divorced in style from the easier tonality of the immediately accessible fourth symphony (1950).

In terms of recording quality this disc is the best sounding of the four reviewed here although it is the oldest recording. It is not that any of the discs sound poor but this one provides a satisfyingly rich sound under considerable pressure from an occasionally very loud orchestra.

The other highlights include the spoken 'wailing' of the brass at 2.00 in the second movement. In the Largo those imperceptibly shifting, quiet, high-whistling violins with marimbas and exotic percussion remind one of Malcolm Arnold (fourth symphony). This music though has little of Arnold's wondering lyricism unless you look to the tougher Arnold symphonies - numbers 7 and 9. Much of the music is oppressive: 'centuries in the chasm' rather than 'paradisal visions'. The last movement has Arnoldian percussion and brass (reminiscent of Arnold Symphonies 4-6) and the more demonstrative Andrzej Panufnik (Tragic Overture and central movement of the Sinfonia Elegiaca).

Notes (Portuguese and English) are important as they are by the composer and although they touch on some musicological matters they are, overall, informative and enjoyable to read.

Recommended for those with mildly stiffened sinews! If you enjoy late Rawsthorne, William Schuman, Panufnik, Hartmann and Vermeulen you must hear this symphony. The disc is inexpensive. The only competition is on Marco Polo where Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5 are played by the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra conducted in a 1990s recording by Álvaro Cassuto. That disc is Marco Polo 8.223879 however while clearly eager and committed that performance does not have the sense of special occasion of this Portugalsom disc.


Rob Barnett

JOLY BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988) Sinfonietta for string orchestra (1963) Concerto in D for string orchestra (1951)  Budapest PO/Andras Korodi  rec Hungaroton Studios, Budapest 1986 supervised by the composer STRAUSS PORTUGALSOM CD870017 [ 36.00]

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Joly Braga Santos is much more likely to be known to the moderately well informed music lover than was once the case. The issue of two Marco Polo CDs of all but two of the six symphonies has, up to a point, put this composer 'on the map'.

The present discs will be of particular interest to those who have invested in those Marco Polo CDs and would like to excavate further.

The Sinfonietta can loosely be bracketed with Bliss's Music for Strings, Tippett's Corelli Fantasia and William Alwyn's Sinfonietta for Strings. The Hungarians make a beefy 'big band' sound; nothing gaunt about the textures. There is a yieldingly Bergian adagio (the Alwyn work is certainly a good parallel) and a spiky allegro ben marcato ending in a delirious Rozsa-like dance.

The Concerto in D's largamente is, again, reminiscent of Rózsa: so approachable and exuding a quiet confidence against the storm. Howells' Concerto for Strings is a further reference. Notable is the song of the first movement, sung sweetly by solo violin.

The central adagio is extremely tuneful and introspective. The finale has the innocent dancing air of a summer morning - a Capriolic frolic as it were - but with more heart than the sometimes self-conscious jolly archaism of the Warlock work.

The notes (by Joao Paes) are in Portuguese and English. Their accent is on musicological analysis. Sadly this hardly ever reads attractively. Details such as the premiere and any dedication do not appear.

These two string works are not at all hard work. Well worth the modest price.


Rob Barnett

JOLY BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988) Divertimento No. 1 for orchestra (1961) [21.15] Viola Concerto (1963) [26.05]  Ana Bela Chaves (viola) Budapest PO/Andra Korodi Hungaroton Studios, Budapest 16-19 March 1981 supervised by the composer STRAUSS PORTUGALSOM CD870008 [47.55]

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The Divertimento No. 1 is in three movements. The preludio has an auburn quality and is much taken up with energetic outbursts and tension barely contained. The feria operates as an intermezzo - bubbling, crisp, sour trumpets, Shostakovichian woodwind. The sweeping charming of the woodwind's long-breathed song at 3.48 is a highlight. The jollity of the finale is part Mediterranean sun and part Atlantic spume.

The Concerto is morose, at first, but rises above depression at 5.20 in a joyous outburst. Folk-like 'pipe and tabor' passages suggest Canteloube (6.10). After other episodes that cannot help reminding one of Vaughan Williams Flos Campi the first movement plays out against overcast ominous bottle-black skies. The energico (only 5 mins duration) once more has the mien of quiet confidence and a folksong heredity. The allegro lamentoso is much taken with shade though there are some moments when the naturally lyric talent of the much derided 'alto singer' is allowed to run free. All in all though I think of this movement in terms of how a late viola concerto by Frank Bridge might have sounded had he written one although the lucid beauty and blue skies climax (8.42) is very different from Bridge's world of owls and lichen. Nevertheless the piece plays out quietly - emotionally equivocal.

Good notes this time including useful background on the composer and touching briefly on the musical technicalities.

A worthwhile and attractive issue.


Rob Barnett

Score and parts available from Santos Beirao, R Candido Figueiredo 87-D - 1500 Lisboa, Portugal

JOLY BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988) Three Symphonic Sketches (1961) [10.16] Elegy to Vianna da Motta (1948) [9.15] Symphonic Variations on a Theme from Alentejo (1951) [14.13] RDP SO/Alvaro Cassuto Hungaroton Studios, Budapest 10-15 October 1978 technical and musical assistance/supervision by the composer STRAUSS PORTUGALSOM SP4055 [33.51]

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The Three Sketches are astringent: a difficult piece though not without a strained brand of lyricism. By contrast the Vianna da Motta Elegy (note the comparative review of the Vianna da Motta symphony in the February 2000 reviews) is dignified and has more of the easily accessible lyricism of the composer's early period.

The Alentejo Variations are also extremely accessible (as are Luis de Freitas Branco's two Alentejana suites): goatbells, more of the mountainside 'pipe and tabor', jaunty folksiness. All these place the work alongside Braga Santos's irresistible and world-class fourth symphony. Just think of a vivid hybrid between the Moeran Symphony and Falla's El Amor Brujo and there you have these Variations. The Alentejo Variations must have gone down well in Brittany where they were premiered.

All the works are lovingly done by Alvaro Cassuto. The playing is completely committed but the Portuguese trumpets are tested to and beyond the limit at the close of the Variations.

This is easily the most rewardingly listenable of these four Braga Santos discs.


Rob Barnett

MOZART Piano Concerto No. 21 rec 1961 JOLY BRAGA SANTOS Symphony No. 1 rec 1960 Portuguese National SO/Pedro de Freitas Branco   STRAUSS PORTUGALSOM SP4055 [60.57]

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This conductor-centric disc is part of a series of 12 discs (you can buy all of them at a special price) preserving a selection of the RDP (Radiodifusao Portuguesa) broadcasts of his live and studio concerts.

De Freitas Branco (born in 1896 and not to be confused with the composer Luis de Freitas Branco) gave his first concert in Lisbon on 12 December 1926 at the age of thirty and his last, in Lisbon, on 16 December 1961. During the mid-1920s he conducted in London for two years before returning to Lisbon, forming the Lisbon SO and being appointed to the National SO in 1934. In Lisbon he premiered, amongst a multitude of other works, Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet, Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

The Concerto is pearlescent and joyously alert. Gilels specialists will want to track down this rare disc.

My main interest is in the Braga Santos First Symphony. This has now been recorded by Marco Polo and in much better sound. It is dedicated to the heroes and martyrs of the Second World War. The Molto Sostenuto is a resignedly heroic trudge smacking of some Oriental procession - though a very quiet one. The second half of the movement (allegro moderato) is snappy, flame-licking and militaristic like Vaughan Williams film music of the 1940s. The strings are not of high quality and once or twice the strain shows through (e.g. 12.15 in I) but there is no mistaking the bubbling passion of the performance. After an andante of slowly paced but intense conflict there follows a troubled allegro assai ruffled with Slav cross-currents (Borodin). The engineers noticeably (and damagingly) pull back on the volume levels towards the end.

Each of the De Freitas Branco Edition discs is available to buy separately but there is a special price for the complete set.

Historically important but really more for the specialist's specialist.


Rob Barnett



JOLY BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988) Symphony No 3 (1949) [38:57] Symphony No 6 (1972) 26:04 * * Ana Ester Neves (sop) * Chorus of Teatro Nacional de Sao Carlos/Joao Paulo Santos   Portuguese SO/Alvaro Cassuto  recorded September 1997 MARCO POLO 8.225087 [65:11]

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I have wanted to hear more of the music of this Portuguese composer ever since encountering his impressive and melodiously approachable Symphony No 4 in a performance incongruously given, not by a Portuguese orchestra, but by the Romanian Radio SO. This work, which also includes choral parts, is not at all blandly tuneful but is quite striking in its approach while at the same time sporting memorable themes.

When I reviewed the Marco Polo disc of Braga Santos's Symphonies 1 and 5 the contrast in style between the two works is striking. Something similar happens here. The third symphony is an essentially melodic work whereas the single movement sixth is often dissonant. At least we now know that the next disc, which must surely couple symphonies 2 and 4, will contain two works which will be wholly melodic and completely approachable. The second symphony is a complete unknown.

The Third Symphony seems to breathe the sea air. After all Portugal is a great maritime nation which numbers many explorers amongst their great men. For years they have been dependent on fishing for their economy. The symphony lays no claims to being a maritime symphony but I give my impression exactly as it came to me on hearing the music.

The first movement opens with a subdued three minute prelude. A hieratic marine trumpet ushers in a pregnant tension from quavering violins which relax into a bright-eyed hustling Moeran-like scherzo complete with flute, oboe, harp and side-drum. The remainder of the movement is demonstrative and vigorous in a very open-air spirit. It ends with a splash of side-drum blows.

The second movement is a big lento. It starts again with a mystery paralleling that of the first movement. Both Copland and Hovhaness are evoked; the latter with a persistent tam-tam stroke. This is very romantic stuff without being sloppy. It reminded me of quite a few John Barry film scores listen to 8:24 on track 2. There are recollections too of Bernard Herrmann (The Trouble With Harry), Shostakovich and Nystroem - that gong again.

The third movement, tempo di scherzo is frighteningly like the brilliant Moeran - specifically his Sinfonietta with a lashing of Vaughan Williams in maritime mode, rural Rózsa (peasant song variations) and some Galanta Kodaly. Harp, side-drum, bass drum, pizzicato it is all there. Sometimes we move towards the Moeran of Serenade. I wonder if Santos knew Moeran's music.

The finale is marked adagio - allegro. VW haunts its opening pages in an ever-shifting quietly reverential style for the strings and then through whispering woodwind. By gradual progress we move towards a more martial atmosphere though it is still heavily folk-styled and remarkably like Vaughan Williams' middle and late period music for massed strings (Concerto Grosso and Partita). A bass drum-beat provides a counterpoint for a noble Copland-like tune which reaches higher and upwards until it melts into a priest-like oration-chorale for brass with gong and cymbals. Braga Santos does not bring off the finale entirely successfully but it remains a satisfying rounding off to an extremely attractive symphony.

The Sixth Symphony is a strange construct. The first half of it is a work of echoes, creeping and wallowing strings, drums, bells and clashing tonality. It has much in common with the language of the fifth symphony, only breaking free when the composer decides to include a vocal setting. Although in a single continuous movement the segments of the work are given six bands. Two are folk-like approachable settings for solo soprano, chorus and orchestra of two poems by the sixteenth century Portuguese poet, Luis de Camoes. The last of these, predominantly for solo soprano, is a gem of a setting, reminding me of Elisabeth Soderstrom's unforgettable soprano solos in Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare (1949). The soprano has a voice of fine and firm tone. Both poems are printed in the booklet in the original language with English translation.

The extensive and seminally informative notes (English, German, French - no Portuguese!) are by the conductor.

The cover is a picture of waves breaking on a shore. The picture is by Falcao Trigoso.

Recommended for those willing to venture out into deeper waters. Be ready to make new friends. If you enjoy Guridi, Moeran, RVW or Kodaly you owe it to yourself to try these works. Thank you Marco Polo. More please.


Robert Barnett


JOLY BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988) Symphony No 1 (1946) [36:19] Symphony No 5 Virtus Lusitaniae (1965-66) [30:59] Portuguese SO/Alvaro Cassuto  MARCO POLO 8.223879 [67:16]

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There is a fairly wide stylistic gulf between the two very decently recorded works on this disc. The first symphony (3 movements) steps out into Vaughan Williams territory; something mentioned in the sleeve notes. This is the Vaughan Williams of Symphonies 4-6 and especially the latter. What is not mentioned is that the energetic galloping music reminds me very strongly of Eduard Tubin and his fourth symphony. It is in four movements and the whole work is dedicated to 'To the memory of the Heroes and Martyrs of the last World War."

Symphony No 5 (4 movements) is written in a very different argot. The music has drawn on the same indicators as William Schuman and Alan Rawsthorne. Portugal's imperial heritage is recalled in the presence of a large percussion section and in the title which is a reference to the Roman name for Portugal: Virtus Lusitaniae. The composer visited Portuguese Mozambique during the early 60s and reflected some of the rhythms and tunes of popular African music in the symphony. The work has much foreboding despite what one expects to be carefree influences. Brass blares enigmatically; drums thud and strings conjure wisps of sound. Perhaps Santos recognised the troubles of Mozambique during the struggle for independence from Portugal and the turmoil that followed. Certainly this is not comforting or comfortable music. We should not expect soft-toned music written in an era of colossal social upheaval and with the spectre of nuclear conflict still present alongside memories of Cuba. The last movement explodes into action with a barrage of drumming but drifts into a more serene landscape. The impressive brass writing occasionally hints that Santos may have heard the symphonies of Robert Simpson - not that many of them had been written by 1966. The piece ends in an acidic blaze of colour.

The divide in style between these two works rather suggests that those who prefer the laid-back though commanding style of the first symphony should be ready to hear symphonies 2 and 3. Number 4 I can already testify to as a work you will enjoy if you like Tubin, Holmboe, RVW or George Lloyd. I hope that Marco Polo will not stop there. Having heard both symphonies 3 or 4 times now I am not sure how convincing the fifth symphony is.

Recommended for the adventurous - they will be rewarded not disappointed. Be warned though that the two symphonies are written in such different styles.

The useful booklet notes are again by conductor Alvaro Cassuto.


Rob Barnett

Ordering details for PORTUGALSOM

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 ----£2.5

For USA---- 1 or 2 CDs-----US$3.50 ; 3 CDs --- $5.5

Orders can come by fax to fax number 351 1 7141723,

by e-mail

or by mail for attention Eduarda Martins to the address:

Strauss, S.A.
Rua Adelaide Cabete, 3C,
1500-023 LISBOA

Credit cards are accepted with the name of the buyer, credit card number, validity date and type of card.
orch score and parts available from Sociedade Portuguesa de Auotores
Av Duque de Loule 31
1000 Lisboa

Orders and enquiries for this disc to
Strauss S.A.
Rua Adelaide Cabete 3-C
1500 Lisboa
phone 01 7151151 - 7143490
fax 01 7141723


Rob Barnett

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