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Claudio SANTORO (1919-1989)
Symphony No 4 Sinfonia da Paz* (1953/4) [25:29]
Ponteio for string orchestra (1953) [5:48]
Symphony No 9 (1982) [25:00]
Frevo (1953/1982) [2:40]
*São Paulo Symphony Choir
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP)/John Neschling
rec. Sala São Paulo, Brazil, February 2002. DDD
BIS CD1370
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The name of Claudio Santoro does not seem to be well-known outside his native Brazil. He barely gets a mention in my reference sources and I could find evidence that only one other disc of his music is available for purchase in the UK - a recording of songs on the Quartz label. I don’t usually make predictions but have a strong feeling that this situation may be about to change - thanks to this splendid offering from BIS.

Santoro studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris just after the Second World War. He was then unable to go to the USA to take up a scholarship because of his communist sympathies. He returned to Brazil and took up a position as head of the Music Faculty in Brasília in the early 1960s. Régime change a few years later led to him being exiled in Germany until 1978. He died in Brasília whilst rehearsing the orchestra of the National Theatre - this is now named after him. For more information about the composer and his works, follow the link below.

Santoro’s music was influenced to some degree by Villa-Lobos but on this evidence is more tautly constructed. It also contains strong Brazilian influences without being overtly nationalistic. There are 14 symphonies in total - information which is surprisingly lacking from the booklet - numbers 9 and 10 of which were conceived simultaneously in a successful attempt to "deceive death".

The disc opens with the fourth symphony subtitled "For peace". This is in three movements, the first is a terse Allegro which opens arrestingly. This is clearly not an extant peace but one which has to be won. The slow movement is the longest and poignant, almost elegiac in feeling apart from during a faster central section with Brazilian rhythms. The finale is a choral setting of part of the Poem of Peace by Antoineta Dias de Morias e Silva, beginning "Mankind holds in its hands the defence of peace". The context of the work is explained by Santoro’s pupil Silvio Barbato in the booklet. He sees it as "indisputably composed in the mould of Soviet socialist realism". In this context it is worth remembering that the work is an almost exact contemporary of Shostakovich’s tenth symphony.

The symphony is followed by Ponteio, an attractive miniature for strings and apparently Santoro’s most popular work. The ninth symphony which follows was written almost twenty years after its predecessor and its genesis is wonderfully described by Barbato who watched the composer at work. This is classical in design – four movements with a slow introduction to the first, Andante con moto second and scherzino to follow. It also represented a return to more traditional idioms for the composer – whilst away in Germany he experimented with electro-acoustics. As with the fourth symphony, this work seems organically conceived and makes a considerable impression. The finale is particularly interesting. It opens with a very brief reference to Brahms – apparently the composer Santoro admired most – the opening of the finale of the second symphony, I suspect. Much more obvious are the imaginative allusions to the opening of the first movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony which are increasingly pervasive as the movement progresses. The concluding work, Frevo is a rumbustious encore.

As well as being bowled over by the music, I was also impressed with the playing of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. Brazilian born John Neschling - a grand-nephew of Schoenberg - has been its principal conductor since 1997 and he inspires the players in music which often seems to require considerable orchestral virtuosity. The chorus is excellent too although set quite well back in the aural image. The recorded sound is good without perhaps being as stunning as some recordings issued on this label. The documentation is full of interesting insights about the composer if slightly lacking in factual information about his output. Altogether this is a very fine disc and a chance to discover some music that surely should be more widely known. That four years have elapsed since it was made is a pity but this can be forgiven if there is more Santoro on the way.

Patrick C Waller




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