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Luis de FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955)
Orchestral Works - Vol. 2
Symphony No. 2 (1926-27) [43:32]
After a reading of Guerra Junqueiro – Fantasy (1909) [9:43]
Artificial Paradises (1910) [14:10]
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/Álvaro Cassuto
rec. National Concert Hall, Dublin, 7-8 April, 8 June 2008. DDD
NAXOS 8.572059 [67:49]
Experience Classicsonline

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.

The Second 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.

ATMA 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 were passionate.

The first volume in this series was reviewed in July 2008.

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.

Rob Barnett





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