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Fernando LOPES-GRAÇA (1906 - 1994)
Piano Concerto No.1 (1940) [30:15]
Piano Concerto No.2 (1950, rev. 1971) [24:48]
Eldar Nebolsin (piano)
Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto - Casa da Música/Matthias Bamert
rec. Sala Suggia, Casa da Música, Porto, Portugal, 11-12 March 2011 (Piano Concerto No.1) and 13-14 May 2011 (Piano Concerto No.2)
NAXOS 8.572817 [55:03]

Fernando Lopes-Graça is undoubtedly the most important Portuguese composer of his generation. His importance rests not only on his composing career but also on his many other activities including teaching amateurs and collecting folk-songs. The latter activity was to play a considerable part in his music-making for Lopes-Graça's music is often imbued with the spirit, if not the letter of Portuguese folk-songs. In this respect it might be compared to Bartók's so-called imaginary folklore although in a less radical way than in some of Bartók's mature works.
The influence of folk music is fairly clearly heard in the First Piano Concerto completed in 1940 and dedicated to José Vianna da Motta with whom Lopes-Graça studied in Lisbon. His other teacher then was Luis de Freitas Branco. Later Lopes-Graça travelled to Paris and studied a while with Charles Koechlin. The outer movements of this fairly substantial work are clearly Iberian in tone with echoes of de Falla in the first movement, for example. At times there’s some added dissonance inherited from Milhaud, but the composer's voice is personal enough to obliterate such passing influences. The real gem of the piece is the beautifully atmospheric second movement which - to my mind - may be one of the most poetic pieces of music that Lopes-Graça ever penned. It’s still full of tension as the quiet, nocturnal mood of the opening is progressively disturbed by some unsettling dissonance and a stringency that is eventually released in the conclusion of the movement, a varied restatement of the opening. 

The Second Piano Concerto was completed in 1950, revised in 1952 although there seems to be some discrepancy about the time the second version was written: 1952 or 1954. It was revised again in 1971 which is the version heard here. From the very beginning the mood is at once sombre and dramatic. Again Bartók might have been a model although Lopes-Graça still remains his own man throughout. The music of the first movement is more percussive while relying on ostinatos and repeated notes. It’s obviously less exuberant than the First Piano Concerto while retaining some Iberian flavour, albeit in a less obvious way than in the earlier work. The slow movement subtitled Evocação de Ravel pays sincere homage to the French composer. The long unaccompanied theme heard at the outset of the movement is clearly reminiscent of the slow movement of Ravel's Concerto in G though this is neither parody nor plagiarism. The orchestra progressively joins in with increasing tension but the movement eventually ends with what Ivan Moody describes as “a strange evocative ghost of a waltz for the piano”. The concluding movement is a rather heavy-threading Toccata with some darker episodes and it ends rather abruptly. 

Lopes-Graça's two piano concertos are substantial works among his other pieces for piano of which he composed quite a lot. Some of them are certainly worth mentioning such as his cycle of six sonatas (1934, 1939 rev. 1956, 1952 rev. 1959, 1961, 1977 and 1981) that are available in a double CD set (Numérica NUM 1124 played by António Rosado). There’s also a set of 24 Prelúdios that I have still to hear, the two suites Viagens na minha terra (1953) of which he made an orchestral version in 1969 and the substantial In Memoriam Béla Bartók, a set of eight progressive suites along the model of Bartók's Mikrokosmos. The music is fairly simple in the early suites and gets more complex along the way, composed between 1960 and 1975. A recording of the complete cycle is available on Numérica NUM 1145 also played by António Rosado.
This disc is the second one entirely devoted to Lopes-Graça's music released by Naxos (see review). Both give cause for reassessment of Lopes-Graça's achievement which should definitely not be overlooked. Other substantial works still cry out to be recorded anew or simply recorded. It is to be hoped that this Naxos CD will encourage further recordings of this never indifferent music. 

As far as I can judge these performances are very fine, strongly committed and well recorded. 

Hubert Culot


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