Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

LUÍS DE FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955)

Portuguese Composer

Essential biography

A pupil of Humperdinck in Berlin and Grovlez in Paris, de Freitas Branco was appointed professor of Score Reading at Lisbon Conservatory in 1916. He headed the composition master class from 1930.

In 1933 he began to publish ‘Arte Musical’ opposing the persecution of musicians in Italy and Germany. His political stance resulted in his removal from all official posts from 1939 to 1947. He was a noted musicologist writing many textbooks and extremely active as a musical journalist.

The Strauss-Portugalsom label has recorded many of his orchestral and other works. I note that the Fifth Symphony (1950) awaits a premiere recording.

Luis was the brother of the conductor Pedro de Freitas Branco.

Rob Barnett



Luis de DE FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955)
Symphony No. 1 (1924) [30.50]
Antero De Quental - symphonic poem (1908) [12.47]
Budapest PO/Andras Korodi
Rec Budapest, 21-24 July 1984
PORTUGALSOM STRAUSS CD 870004/PS [43.57]

   
After venturing out on the uncharted waters of Frederico de Freitas and Joly Braga Santos, it was high time I got to grips with the music of Luis de Freitas Branco. As usual the inexpensive roster of Portugalsom-Strauss yields up a fantastic selection of music even if you sometimes have to accept AAD recording.

For a Symphony written in 1924 this one sounds rather old-fashioned (mind you the 1920s was not a decade for symphonies, anyway) - no harm in that. Its Lisztian macabre and Sibelian melodic flow are no obstacle to the easy-spinning beauty of a tune liberated and running free in the first movement. This has a darting spirit that recalls Bizet and Chabrier. The consolatory Andante is lovingly done - sung by refined vulnerable strings echoed back and fore with the woodwind. The Allegro vivace has a Franckian stamp with lightning slippery dash and only a micron or two of the shine taken off by the lack of perfect unanimity in the Hungarian strings. Final movements are always difficult to pull off; this one has melodrama but sounds rather contrived.

Quental, the Portuguese author, is celebrated in the boiling Lisztian tone poem in which the string sound touches on Bruckner's intensity (quite a strong voice in this work - listen also to the brass parts). There is also a touch of the complexity of Verklärte Nacht. It would be good to hear the similarly literary-inspired orchestral pieces of Freitas Branco on readings of Julio Diniz and Guerra Junqueiro.

Decent notes from Joao de Freitas Branco. Much better translated and proof-read than some in this series.

Rob Barnett

 

 

Luis de DE FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955)
Symphony No. 2 (1926) [43.27] *
Alentejo Suite No. 1 (1919) [24.53]
Budapest PO/Gyula Nemeth *
Hungarian State SO/Gyula Nemeth
Rec Hungaroton Studios, Budapest, 15-19 Feb 1983 *; 18-25 April 1979 ADD PORTUGALSOM STRAUSS CD SP 4073 [68.55]

The politics behind this Portugalsom series may well have been intriguing. Hungary and Budapest seem unlikely bedfellows for the Iberians. I am not sure if I will ever fathom the reason for such a collaboration although, when I see that Bomtempo's Requiem in the EDEL, Berlin Classics catalogue, I suspect that communist sympathies had more than a little to do with it. It's just a pity that these sympathies did not export to the UK and leave us with a complete set of Eastern German Alan Bush operas and symphonies!

What of Freitas Branco on this disc? This is the most generously timed of a usually parsimonious series. The Symphony is no brevity either. It plays for close on three quarters of an hour. Its Brahmsian sympathies are not left to guesswork. Its heavy charm can give way to Poulencian levity. The first movement's mournful anthem to bereavement has a touch or two of Finlandia about it as does the passionate processional that follows it. The witchery of the Allegro vivace is given a virtuoso spin by the Budapest orchestra. The last movement's jollity soon finds an impassioned touch and the payoff brings the house down.

The Alentejo suite rings the changes through high glistening strings, a falteringly innocent song and airy textures. This is far more impressionistic than the Second Symphony. If you have a taste for unfamiliar Iberian colour then look no further. Updated shades of both Sarasate and Chabrier!

The notes are so-so being far too taken up with arid musical analysis.

The music is well worth hearing - a meaty symphony influenced by Brahms, Dukas, Chausson and an eventful douche of impressionistic colour.

Rob Barnett

 

Luis de DE FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955)
Symphony No. 3 (1944) [40.43] *
Artificial Paradises - symphonic poem (1910) [11.51]*
Solemnia Verba - symphonic poem (1951) [15.16] *
Budapest PO/Gyula Nemeth
Hungarian State Orchestra/Gyula Nemeth
Rec Budapest, 26-30 April 1982 (symphony)
Rec Budapest, 18-25 April 1979
PORTUGALSOM STRAUSS SP 4165 [55.00?]

 

Luis de Freitas Branco's first two symphonies were products of the 1920s - Francophile yet Brahmsian. Eighteen years were to elapse before the Third appeared. It was written after his retirement from the Lisbon Conservatoire. A self-confessed Monarchist his sympathies were no obstacle to his conviction that music was for all the people; not just the ivory towered elite.

The Symphony remains old-fashioned ... or largely so. The smoke and menace of Bruckner's Eighth is there with swarthy brass melodramatics and gawky attitude-striking themes. The gaunt woodwind writing of The Rite of Spring crosses with Brucknerian patterns, accelerating woodwind figures and belligerent brass motifs. A cool and unconfident nondescript lento precedes an awkward angular allegro. There are some signs that Honegger's music had reached Lisbon. The allegro vivace could have done with a greater rush but this is still very effective and even finds time to throw out hints of Piston and Tchaikovsky! A not entirely satisfactory symphony but one with virtues worth hearing.

Artificial Paradises was inspired by Thomas de Quincey's 'Confessions of an Opium Eater'. It represents a high water mark in the insurgence of impressionism in Portuguese music. The composer must have been well read as one of his other inspirations was William Beckford 's 'Vathek'. He was much entangled in literary influences from Mallarmé to Beckford, de Quincey to Guerra Junqueiro, Antero de Quental to Maeterlinck, Julio Dinis to Camoes. This piece is a display of fragrantly sensuous light-as-down music, prizing clarity and eschewing smudged textures. It is agreeably insubstantial but rewards curiosity. Solemnia Verba was sparked by a sonnet by Antero de Quental. Though written in the 1950s the music harks back to Rimsky and especially the Russian Easter Festival Overture with interruptions from Ravel (06.02) and, in the last ten or so minutes, Tchaikovsky.

The notes are thorough and, apart from their total immersion in musical technicality, are helpful. For those who find this enlightening there are nineteen music exx. Once again proof-reading for the English section is lacking. I offer to proof the English language sections of the next issues without fee.

Unpretentious but always intriguing fare from Strauss.

Rob Barnett

 

Luis de DE FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955)
Symphony No. 4 (1952) [35.47] *
Budapest PO/Janos Sandor
Rec Hungaroton Studios, Budapest, 2-5 April 1987 DDD
PORTUGALSOM STRAUSS CD 870018/PS [35.47]

The Fourth and last of Freitas Branco's symphonies is the only one of the Strauss series to be captured in DDD sound. The price (as for everything from this splendidly adventurous catalogue) is modest and the treasures are unfamiliar.

The annual Portugalsom trek, with performing materials, from Lisbon to Budapest certainly paid off this time! Apart from the Braga Santos Fourth (in any case with Rumanian forces!) nothing quite touches this disc for sheer force and molten commitment.

The playing time is not generous. Uniform with the rest of the symphony series, the notes are by Joao de Freitas Branco (1922-89). Eighteen music exx and bilingual (Portuguese/English) programme notes. Proof-reading would have been a good investment but this is a small quibble in the face of such fiery music-making.

The work is strongly lyrical with woodwind accentuated. It has a folksy feeling rather like Kodaly: unpretentiously melodic - generous of build, prolonged in urgency. Sandor takes no prisoners, according the full measure of lyricism but varying it with acrid violence straight out of Shostakovich. The second movement is crowned with exalted and raucous grandeur while the third rings the changes through chaos, a wheezy country dance (think of the Alentejana suites) and a wild round dance. The 13.17 allegro yawns and stretches with moments of rusticity, starry strings straight out of Daphnis, stomping symphonic momentum (a hint of the symphonies by Kodaly and Moeran - twins separated at birth!) and the return of the great yawing urgent melody from the first movement. The symphony is dedicated to that other fine Portuguese symphonist, Joly Braga Santos.

Rob Barnett

 

Luis de DE FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955)
Violin Concerto (1916) *
Tentacoes de S Frei Gil (1911) **
Vasco Barbosa (violin) *
RDP SO/Silva Pereira
* rec Lisbon 17-20 June 1980 ADD
** rec Lisbon 9-10 December 1980 ADD
PORTUGALSOM STRAUSS SP4042 [49:58]

 

De Freitas Branco’s dates place him squarely in the early twentieth century romantic bracket. His music affirms this.

The Violin Concerto is another triumphantly super-romantic work out of a similar mould to the Tchaikovskian concertos by de Boeck, Janis Ivanovs and Karlowicz (all well worth getting to hear). De Freitas Branco writes a good whistleable tune and can dig as deep into plush romanticism as Korngold though his tunes are not quite as consummate. At the same time they do not topple over into kitsch quite as easily as those of Korngold. Barbosa (who can also be heard on another Portugalsom CD in the violin sonatas) is dedicated and fiery - just listen to the way he pitches into the start of the stormy third movement.

The Tentacoes de S. Frei Gil is in three segments: a prelude and the Temptations of Death and of Life. The three movements are extracted from an oratorio of the same name. The music tries to shake off somnolent Slav reverence but this mood is in the ascendant and the Temptation of Death clearly carries the field. This is by no means as satisfactory a work as the same composer's Vathek (on SP 4130).

Silva Pereira and the RDP SO are firing on all cylinders exactly as with Pereira's intoxicating version of the Braga Santos Fourth Symphony.

Rob Barnett

Luis de DE FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955)
Vathek (1913) [27.07]
Suite Alentejana no. 2 (1927) [17.22]
Budapest PO/Andras Korodi
* rec Budapest 2-10 May 1985 AAD
PORTUGALSOM STRAUSS SP 4130 [43:07]

 

It was not so very long ago (OK, the 1980s!) that the German company, Capriccio, issued three discs selecting rare orchestral pieces inspired by the exotic Orient. Luis de Freitas Branco's Vathek could easily have been stabled there.

Vathek is an eighteenth century novella by the Englishman, William Beckford. Beckford had links with Portugal and spent some years there. The book is a spiced and densely descriptive pre-Gothic fantasy on the Calif, Vathek, whose limitless wealth was deployed in saturated pleasure. He created and stocked five palaces each dedicated to sensuality: food, music, art, fragrance and eros.

Broadly speaking this magically orchestrated music is in the same territory as Schmitt's Salome, Dukas's La Péri, Rimsky's Sheherazade and Griffes' Pleasure Dome. Raw brass fanfares, violent dances, Pierrot twilights, voluptuous Franckian climaxes (cf Psyche), drizzling doom and birdsong (uncannily similar to Holbrooke's Birds of Rhiannon music - a legend now appropriated by MacMillan), Vathek was in sympathy with Flecker's pilgrims who took the Golden Road to Samarkand for 'lust of knowing what should not be known.' There is a wholly fitting sense of exhaustion in the epilogue. The work is in eight separately tracked segments played contiguously.

There are two Alentejo suites. The first, from 1917, is on SP 4073. The music captures mist-filled ravines, Ravelian lightness, a technicolour approach married with the fragile impressionism of Mère l'Oie. Massenet (Le Cid - remember Frémaux's cracking and still unbeaten Columbia/EMI Studio 4 recording of the dances with the CBSO?), Chabrier, Borodin (Igor), Beethoven (Pastoral) and Sibelius (Karelia) all put in an appearance.

Rob Barnett

 

ORDERING

For UK --- £6 each
Freight --- up to 3 CDs --- not registered --- £2.40;registered---- £3.50

For USA --$ 10 each
Freight --up to 3CDs -- not registered ---$5 ;registered ---- $6.80

We accept Visa or American Express

Orders : to the attention of Eduarda Martins
by fax to the nº 351217141723

By mail to :
Rua Adelaide Cabete,3C
1500-023 LISBOA
Portugal
by e-mail to:
info@strauss.pt


Return to Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.