Lopes-Graça’s História Trágica-Maritima
was completed in 1943, originally as a song cycle for tenor and orchestra.
It was revised in 1960 when the composer opted for a baritone, wordless
alto voices in the outer movements and revised the scoring. Portugal
has a long naval history but the poems set by the composer generally
avoid the epic aspects of Portugal’s naval history to focus on human
aspects of it.
The first movement Sagres acts as a beautifully
atmospheric prelude in which alto voices add colour to the ruminating,
foreboding orchestral sounds. The second movement A Largada ("Departure")
opens in buoyant mood and ends in subdued tones ("callous hands
waved farewell"). A Espera ("Waiting") is a mysterious
nocturne of great beauty suggesting some ominous expectancy. The next
movement O Regresso ("The Return") is full of contrasts
suggesting alternately sea and earth, hopeful faith and episodes of
tragedy. O Achado ("Discovery") opens with bright fanfares
but the music soon evokes the varied moods of the poem. The following
movement Tormenta ("Tempest") is appropriately the
most vigorous, animated section of the work and the only one in which
Lopes-Graça enlarges his expressive palette by using some Sprechgesang.
The last section Mar ("Sea") logically enough recalls
the main material from the prologue thus bringing this wonderful piece
full circle. If, as suggested by Constant Lambert, Debussy’s La
Mer is clearly a broad canvas depicting the sea from which Man
is conspicuously absent, Lopes-Graça’s beautiful cantata firmly
puts Man at the heart of Portuguese naval exploration. A wonderful work
that clearly deserves wider exposure which this fine recorded performance
Viagens en minha Terra ("Travels
through my Country"), originally a piano suite completed in 1953,
was orchestrated in 1969 (the original piece was then split into two
suites while the order of the various movements was modified). Its evocation
of Portugal’s history and folklore nevertheless eschews any bluntly
picturesque cliché, but rather achieves its aim by way of some
sort of imaginary folklore (again Bartok’s model) and of allusions to
rather than quotations of Portuguese folk music, as the composer also
did in his Suite Rustica No.2 for string quartet. Lopes-Graça’s
scoring calls for a very large orchestra which the composer uses efficiently,
though quite sparingly, preferring subtle colour touches rather than
big brushstrokes. Viagens en minha Terra is a colourful,
attractive piece of music which again deserves to be better known.
These two scores actually make for a very attractive
diptych evoking various facets of Portugal’s history and culture without
any recourse to dated or superficial pictorialism, but rather by putting
the Universal Man firmly at the heart of it.
To my mind this is one of the finest releases devoted
to Lopes-Graça’s warmly humane, generous music and probably the
best possible introduction to his musical and human thinking.
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