Joly BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988)
Symphonic Overture No. 3 (1954) [13:57]
Elegy in memory of Vianna da Motta (1948) [10:37]
Alfama: Ballet Suite (arr. Á. Cassuto) (1956)* [24:23]
Variations for Orchestra (1976)* [12:50]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Álvaro Cassuto
rec. RSNO Centre, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, 8-9 March 2011. DDD
*World Première Recordings
NAXOS 8.572815 [72:36]

Another attractive Braga Santos volume from Naxos and Álvaro Cassuto. After this there are only the three operas to come.
The musical style adopted by Portuguese composer Braga Santos was as dramatically bifurcated as that of Frank Bridge. While Bridge’s dividing of the ways was loosely marked by the Great War for Braga Santos it came in the 1960s. That said, you can hear Bergian accents in the almost reverential Elegy in memory of Vianna da Motta of more than a decade earlier. That communicative bleakness also arches through the delicacy of the Variations for Orchestra. His symphonies bear the stigmata of the change: the first four are romantically tonal, splendidly lyrical and dramatically melodic. The last two are riven with dissonance. The same parting of the ways is evident in the works of the 1940s and 1950s contrasted with those of the next two decades. The Symphonic Overture No. 3, for all its matte grey title, is exultantly tuneful and surgingly poetic. If you love this – and you will - then do not overlook the glorious Fourth Symphony though its three predecessors are no disappointment: Nos. 1/5 3/6 and No 2. The joyous confidence of Alentejo folk music is perfectly synthesised into the music. The folk accent is unmistakable as is the parity with material used also by another Portuguese composer of an overlapping generation: Luis de Freitas Branco (Naxos; Portusom). The ballet Alfama was said to have been disowned by the composer but Cassuto has worked over the performing materials, tightened things up and produced a suite that is understood to capture the essence of the work in nine short movements. There is a dash of de Falla, a hint perhaps of Canteloube’s rusticity of orchestration, something of Berkeley’s Mont Juic, a splash of Stravinsky’s Petrushka and all brilliantly confected. The Three Symphonic Sketches are very reminiscent of the tortured, poignant, animated writing of Malcolm Arnold; especially the dissonant aggression of his Fifth Symphony. The writing in the final Allegro is trigger-sprung, tightly coiled and as suggestive of cataclysm as the stormier passages in Panufnik’s symphonies. Try not to forget two other discs of his music. These open casements onto the music of his later years: Cello Concerto and Concerto for Strings.
The conductor Cassuto – himself a composer – writes the very personable and unstuffily direct liner-note. He has been at the forefront of the propagation of Portuguese concert music both within Portugal and worldwide. He knows and can search out its inherent rhythmic zest, poetry and provocative life. The fact that he has done this so successfully with orchestras as diverse as the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra, RSNO, Northern Sinfonia, RTE and Algarve Symphony Orchestra serves as testimony to his communicative skills and utter dedication. In this he is aided and most vividly abetted by the larger than life Naxos recording.
Do not overlook Braga Santos but be ready to encounter his two personas: triumphantly lyrical melodist and searingly intense modernist.

Rob Barnett

Braga Santos: triumphantly lyrical melodist and searingly intense modernist.