> Joly Braga Santos - Concerto for Strings [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Joly BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988)
Concerto for Strings in D (1951) [19.39]
Sinfonietta for Strings (1963) [18.09]
Variations Concertantes for Strings and Harp (1967) [11.06]
Concerto for Violin, Cello, Strings and Harp (1968) [18.57]
Bradley Creswick (violin)
Alexander Somov (cello)
Sue Blair (harp)
Northern Sinfonia/Álvaro Cassuto
rec 26-28 Apr 2001, Jubilee Theatre, St Nicholas' Hospital, Gosforth, Newcastle, UK, DDD
MARCO POLO 8.225186 [67.51]


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It has been my pleasure to share my discoveries amongst the music of the Portuguese composer Braga Santos. I know that I am not alone in the high regard I have for this composer whose diatonic vigour, folk inflections and airy directness of speech places him close to composers such as Moeran and Vaughan Williams.

The current disc complements Marco Polo's series of Braga Santos's symphonies - a series now stalled until they record and release the best of the set: the part-choral Fourth Symphony.

The Concerto for Strings will present no problems to listeners who appreciate their Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia and Dives and Lazarus, Rózsa Concerto for Strings, Bliss Music for Strings and Howells' Concerto for Strings. The last movement has passing resemblances to Warlock's Capriol. The Sinfonietta is for twelve solo strings. After a typically subdued introduction which sounds pretty avant-garde for Braga Santos (the arch-traditionalist) comes a vigorous folk allegro with the athletic tone of Tippett, Herrmann (Psycho) and Rózsa. This reappears with a Bartók-like edginess in the finale. The middle movement is heavily influenced by the Second Viennese school with the melodic lines extruded and distorted. Four years later and the Variations Concertantes is a set of Bergian variations in which the section leaders and the harpist play a soloistic role amid a bed of hyper-active and movingly intense counterpoint. The Variations is a brief work of concert overture proportions. The variations are not separately banded. Lastly we come to the 1968 Concerto for Violin, Cello, Harp and Strings in which the harmony and sound-world of the Polish avant-garde of that time is in the ascendant. Not surprisingly this shares much with the Variations Concertantes. Surging intensity - even anxiety - rush and ripple through this music. The Allegro with its Stravinskian stamp is a demonstration piece - an avant-garde scherzo - brittle and brilliant. The dazed and disquieting Berg-like dream of the Adagio carries marks of both Penderecki and Maderna. Astonishingly Braga Santos pulls of a miraculous transition in the final five minutes of the adagio from Bergian anxiety into a relaxed tonal radiance.

The Northern Sinfonia (who have also recorded Finzi and Rawsthorne for Naxos) produce a big string sound aided by the enclosed acoustic. Their gutsy playing under Braga Santos specialist, Cassuto is indicative of their application to some desperately unfamiliar music.

The downside is an acoustic that is a shade claustrophobic.

Unusually challenging fare from Marco Polo. With the exception of the Concerto for Strings this is Braga Santos from the Fifth and Sixth symphonies end of his career. His music underwent an astonishing transformation from the first four symphonies (which resonate with the same language as Walton, RVW and Moeran) to the disillusion and knowing violence of the 1960s and 1970s. Brace yourself!

Rob Barnett

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