If you are familiar with any or all of Braga Santos' earlier symphonies, the very first bars of his Fifth Symphony will be a great shock. The tuneful, colourful, sunny lyricism of the earlier works has completely vanished to be replaced by a more astringent, dissonant idiom reminiscent of the late Roberto Gerhard (e.g. the Concerto for Orchestra and the Fourth Symphony), if somewhat less radical. The Fifth Symphony was written 15 years after the overtly optimistic Fourth, and, in the intervening years, Braga Santos was led to reconsider his attitude to music and thus started composing in a more freely chromatic idiom under Bartok's looming shadow. Works of this period (e.g. the Sinfonietta for Strings or the fine Viola Concerto) clearly point out to some further evolution, though Braga Santos never was an aggressively radical composer. One of the end products of this stylistic evolution is the powerful Fifth Symphony completed in 1965/6.
The opening movement provides for a weighty introduction in which massive waves of sound brutally collide. The harmonic tension is sustained from first to last and the level is dissonance is high. The following Scherzo is a ghostly movement moving along restlessly. The slow movement is a rather dark, defiant statement bringing little solace, if at all, whereas the concluding movement maintains the global amount of tension, energy and dissonance. However this should not induce any of you to think that Braga Santos' Fifth Symphony is just a brutal example of "modernity". Quite the contrary, Braga Santos's intense will to communicate, evident in his earlier music, is still present. The means of expression have changed but communication still lies at the heart of this generous, if somewhat uncompromising, work which may be one of the composer's finest achievements.
The present performance, recorded a few years after the completion of the work, is superb. Silva Pereira has the full measure of this virile, forward thriving music and conducts a wonderful reading of this powerfully dramatic piece of music.
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