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Fernando LOPES-GRAÇA (1906–1994)
Piano Quartet (1938, rev. 1963) [24:03]
Fourteen Annotations (1966) [16:38]
String Quartet No. 2 (1982) [17:47]
Olga Prats (piano) Quarteto Lopes-Graça
rec. Museu de Música Portuguesa, Monte Estoril, Portugal, 24-29 June 2013 TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0254 [51:10]
Several new recordings of Fernando Lopes-Graça's music have been released recently. These added considerably to one's appraisal of this composer's considerable stature in Portuguese music of the last century. Quite apart from the now inaccessible numerous recordings on Portusom (review ~ review) there have been several other notable Lopes-Graça CDs on Capriccio (piano music) and Naxos (piano concertos, orchestral music). These complement the very distinguished work done by Toccata Classics as detailed in the present review.
As recently as last year I reviewed the first volume of his output for piano and string quartet (Toccata Classics TOCC 0253) and I concluded hoping for a quick release of Volume 2. So here it is and unlike its predecessor it includes one first recording: the relatively early Piano Quartet completed in 1938 and revised in 1963. Incidentally nothing in the otherwise well-documented and well-informed notes details the extent of the revision. Anyway the Piano Quartet is fairly substantial and had been intended for presentation at an international composers' competition organised by the Quatuor Belge à Clavier. In fact it does not seem to have been performed on that occasion probably due to the outbreak of World War II. It was revised in 1963 and performed then at the seventh Gulbenkian Music Festival in Lisbon. Lopes-Graça's liking for and understanding of Bartók's so-called imaginary folklore has been well documented. His music has more often than not been infused with folk inflections and original as well as real Portuguese folk songs. The first movement Allegro moderato is rather dance-like but the music sometimes becomes more nervous and unpredictable with some unexpected harmonic and rhythmic twists. The following Largo con variazioni is often quite tense and the final Allegro scherzando eventually dispels the tension accumulated in the slow movement.
In the masterly Fourteen Annotations of 1966 Lopes-Graça ventures into a more daring stylistic world. In this piece the composer looks to the example of Webern. Each movement is quite short and the sequence suggests a series of moods rather than a fully integrated piece of music. One may also think of Prokofiev's brilliant Visions fugitives, particularly so in Barshai's splendid version for string orchestra. It may also be worth noting that Lopes-Graça composed several pieces for string quartet during the 1960s: the piano quintet Canto de Amor e de Morte (1961), the First String Quartet (1964) and Suite Rústica No.2 (1965) which suggests that he found the medium attractive and suited to his musical thinking.
Lopes-Graça returned to the medium almost twenty years later when he completed the Second String Quartet in 1982. This is fairly concise and compact in four short and highly contrasted movements. Stylistically the music is now clearly that of a master in full command of his aims and means. It unfolds almost effortlessly in each of the movements with not a single note wasted. The writing for strings is masterly throughout and – again – it seems clear that the medium meant much to the composer so that there may be cause to regret that he did not compose more for it.
Lopes-Graça was an important figure in Portugal and the recent reassessment of some of his vast output is most welcome indeed. A number of his substantial works still badly need a new recording; I particularly think of his moving and imposing Requiem. It is to be hoped that these new recordings will prompt others to follow suit.
In the meantime one must be grateful for having these substantial and often beautiful works in fine performances and recording. I also want to single out the excellent notes accompanying this and Volume 1.