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Fernando LOPES-GRAÇA (1906–1994)
Canto de Amor et de Morte (1961) [17:14]
String Quartet No.1 (1964) [26:54]
Suite Rústica No.2 (1965) [10:21]
Olga Prats (piano: Canto); Quarteto Lopes-Graça
rec. Museu da Música Portuguesa, Monte Estoril, Portugal, 25-30 March 2013 and 24-29 June 2013

I quite often had the opportunity to remark that record companies sometimes move in mysterious ways. Indeed, Lopes-Graça's music was largely unknown outside Portugal for quite a long time although he was always regarded as one of this country's most significant artists. The advent of compact disc brought back a number of reissues and some of them were reviewed here both by Rob Barnett and myself. In the meantime there have been a more recent recordings on Naxos and Capriccio, all of which have been reviewed here. Now Toccata releases what will probably be part of a smaller-scale series centred on his works for string quartet and those for string quartet/trio and piano. The first volume's red thread concentrates on his works written during one of his most fruitful decades, the mid-sixties.
The piano quintet Canto de Amor e de Morte of 1961 is undoubtedly one of his most personal utterances. It was composed during a period of deep personal crisis, on personal grounds involving the death of his father. There wee also social reasons. He was after all, still living under Salazar's dictatorship. Add to this that he then felt that his folk-inflected music might no longer be suited to voicing all that he aimed to say. It should then come as no surprise at all that the music is considerably more tenser and troubled than his earlier works, often impassioned, almost verging on dodecaphony. The music was certainly no longer modal or tonal but it never outstretched into serialism. However, Lopes-Graça was obviously exploring new ground in this compact, eventful and strongly expressive work that many consider one of the peaks of modern Portuguese music. Olga Prats had a long working association with Lopes-Graça. A picture in the insert notes shows her playing a Debussy duet with Lopes-Graça. Prats is once again the pianist in this new recording, a part that she had already taken on earlier: Portugalsom CD 870036/PS.
Lopes-Graça composed three works sharing the same title: Suite Rústica No.1 for orchestra (1950 – Naxos 8.572892) and Suite Rústica No.3 for wind band (1977 and never recorded so far) and Suite Rústica No.2 (1965) for string quartet recorded here. There also exists a somewhat earlier recording on Portugalsom SP 4036. It goes without saying that Suite Rústica No.2 is somewhat more simple and easy-going in comparison with the piano quintet and the First String Quartet. Stylistically it is closer to Bartók and again suggests imaginary folklore. On the whole the piece is fairly straight speaking although it may not always be as simple as it may sound at first.
The First String Quartet, completed in 1964, is a substantial work in five movements. It earned the composer some international recognition after winning the first prize at the Prince Rainier III competition in Monaco in 1965. Again, one may draw comparisons with Bartók's mature string quartets; the annotator mentions the Hungarian composer's Fourth and Fifth Quartets. The basic material is quite limited but is then developed with remarkable inventive skill. In this respect the music is comparable with that of the piano quintet in that its basic cells comprise short intervals which are then allowed to blossom. Everything is tightly worked out with an almost implacable logic. Lopes-Graça manages to bring much variety into the music while always keeping the basic material in mind. Harmonically it is often rather tense and troubled but finds a final catharsis in the short epilogue. I have no doubt about it: the First String Quartet — and the Second for that matter — is another important milestone in Lopes-Graça's output.
As already mentioned earlier, Olga Prats again brings her expertise and deep knowledge of Lopes-Graça's music to a strongly committed reading of the masterly and often deeply moving piano quintet Canto de Amor e de Morte. She is superbly partnered by the Lopes-Graça Quarteto which comes into its own in the substantial First String Quartet and in Suite Rústica No.1 which they deliver with aplomb and commitment. Another asset is to be found in the detailed and well informed insert notes well up to the standards one has come to expect from this brave and enterprising label.
I was at first a little taken aback by the sound of the recording to which I later adjusted without a problem. I noticed that the following is mentioned concerning the recording proper: 24bit/96Khz recording (16bit/44.1Khz CD). Can this have any impact on the sound as heard from the record? This, however, should not deter anyone from investigating this endearing composer's generous output. I look forward to hearing Volume 2 and much more.
Hubert Culot