Standing by their commitment – with the aid of some sponsorship
– Naxos produce the second of four CDs of the symphonies of
Portuguese composer Luis de Freitas Branco. We are in trusty
hands too: the conductor Alvaro Cassuto piloted the first
disc and also presided over the Marco Polo Braga Santos
series. In fact the miraculously fine Braga Santos
Fourth Symphony also used the same RTÉ orchestra.
Symphony is a big work deployed across four movements
the first of which repeatedly hints at Franckian inspiration.
There’s a touch or two of Brahms 4 as well. The second movement
takes a rural flavour familiar if you know this composer’s
Alentejo suites. There’s also some evidence that de Freitas
Branco was rather taken with Dvořák 9. Romping countryside
confidence redolent of Bruckner 4 and the fey sprees of Elgar’s
Enigma mark out the Allegro Vivace and the finale
whirls dancingly away with all the vivacity of Fibich’s Third
Symphony – wonderfully recorded by Karel Sejna on Supraphon.
The brief After a reading of Guerra Junqueiro is
mildly Straussian with some very attractive lines for the
solo violin at the very end of the work. Of far more interest
is what it seems is recognised as de Freitas Branco’s finest
orchestral work: Artificial Paradises. This
is in effect a tone poem and was inspired by Thomas de Quincey’s
novel ‘Confessions of an Opium-Eater’. It can be counted in
the company of Lyapunov’s tone poem Hashish and von
Bülow’s even earlier Nirvana. The composer read this
in a French translation made by Baudelaire. The music is a
pretty exotic brew and most impressive – in fact I ended up
playing this again – twice in quick succession. I seem to
remember that I did the same thing when I first heard it in
the early 2000s when I reviewed the Portugalsom recording
of the piece on Strauss
SP 4165. It is a most atmospheric piece: glistering, silken,
delicately lyrical, swooningly Debussian and ecstatically
priapic in the best manner of Bax’s Spring Fire. There’s
even a Scriabin-style trumpet reminiscent of The Poem of
Ecstasy. You get the picture – and it’s a beguilingly
luxuriant picture too. Several sections put me in mind of
Franck’s erotic Psyche which I got to know from Paul
Strauss’s recording for Pathe-Marconi with the Ličge Orchestra
– does anyone have that EMI CD, I wonder.
Classique recently recorded the Second Symphony and that
version does go with a spring and a swing – a shade more than
here. It is coupled with the Fernandes Violin Concerto which
is less attractive than the other works here.
The now long gone
Portugalsom versions of all four de Freitas Branco symphonies
- and much else by this composer – were reviewed
here in 2001. These were vivacious performances recorded
in the 1980s but the Hungarian orchestras seemed ill prepared
even if their Hungarian conductors Korodi, Nemeth and Sandor
The first volume
in this series was reviewed in July
It would be a
mistake to pass over de Freitas Branco. His symphonies, tone
poems, violin concerto and much else will reward your effort.
All the more so if you have a taste for pastoral and even
urbane impressionism with a reactionary Franckian accent.