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Luís TINOCO (b 1969)
The Blue Voice of the Water
O Sotaque Azul das Águas (The Blue Voice of the Water) (2015) [13:46]
Cello Concerto (2016-17) [25:31]
Frisland (2014) [11:09]
Before Spring, a Tribute to ‘The Rite’ (2010, rev 2013) [10:41]
Filipe Quaresma, cello
Gulbenkian Orchestra/Susanna Mälkki (O sotaque azul)
Orquestra Sinfónica Portuguesa/ Pedro Neves (Concerto)
Seattle Symphony/ Ludovic Morlot (Frisland)
Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto Casa da Música/ Martin André (Before Spring)
rec 2014-17, Gulbenkian Auditorium, Lisbon; Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon; Benaroya Hall, Seattle; Sala Suggia, Casa da Música, Porto
ODRADEK RECORDS ODRCD365 [61:07]

As he approaches his half-century, the Portuguese composer Luís Tinoco is finally beginning to secure a foothold in the consciousness of concert promoters, record labels and listeners alike. He has admitted to being a late developer in any case: despite being born into a musical family (his father was an amateur jazz pianist and bass player; his grandmother an accomplished pianist and student of Vianna da Motta, no less) he initially enrolled onto a film-making degree before realising he had chosen the wrong path and converting to a music course at the Escola Superior de Música in Lisbon, an institution at which he would subsequently become Vice-Principal. He undertook further studies in England, at the Royal Academy and at the University of York, which continues to publish his work. Some of his early works were released on compilations on the Meridian and Etcetera labels, while his first portrait disc was released roughly a decade ago on Odaline de la Martinez’s Lorelt label (LNT121). The largest scale recording of his work emerged on Naxos (8.572981) in 2013; entitled ‘Round Time’ it consists of the title work for orchestra alone, and three pieces for soprano and orchestra. It reveals a composer who has a real ear for orchestral texture and colour, as well as a sense of adventure when writing for the voice.

I enjoyed that Naxos disc a lot and thus had high hopes for the present issue, especially since Odradek have released two of the best discs to have come my way so far this year. I was not disappointed. At least three of the works on The Blue Voice of the Water are colourful, memorable and tautly written – I am especially impressed with Tinoco’s disciplined approach to his art – his melodic and rhythmic invention never seems to flag while he certainly knows how to move a piece forward without extravagant repetition. I was a little less taken with the final item, the Stravinsky homage ‘Before Spring’, but even that is exciting to hear and emerged from an imaginative conceptual conceit, even if the finished product doesn’t quite match the ambition of its premise.

The evocative piece that gives the disc its title (its Portuguese title O Sotaque Azul das Águas arguably sounds even more alluring) was jointly commissioned by the Orquestra Gulbenkian (who perform it dazzlingly here) and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. It is inspired by the geographical and sociological links between Portugal and Brazil: Tinoco finds overlaps between the changes in the appearance of the ocean waves as one physically approaches either country with the subtle differences in the inflections of the Portuguese language as it is spoken in each place. Ultimately it’s a marine tone poem built upon wave-like patterns and shapes. Tinoco builds motifs that rise and fall, connected by telling use of brass and percussion which is delicately handled in the main but can be forceful when required. The writing for timpani in particular is superbly assured, quite devoid of cliché and is thrillingly caught in this recording. Tinoco projects the timelessness and monumentality of the ocean most convincingly. He creates dynamic contrasts between fast, propulsive music and more elegiac string-led passages, occasionally and discreetly coloured by tiny, microtonal inflections. There are clues as to the Latin provenance of the work, but these are tastefully absorbed into the whole. Susanna Mälkki leads a sparkling account of this terrific piece. It emerges as cyclical, coherent and elegant.

The Cello Concerto is the most recent work on the disc and, shorn of any overt programmatic inspiration, I feel it allows the listener to appreciate more deeply Tinoco’s approach to composition in general and his writing for the orchestra in particular. His management of the tension between soloist and ensemble is masterly – this an echo of his writing for voice and orchestra which so impressed on the Naxos disc. It opens with mysterious, rather Ivesian string chords – these project spectral, but warmly yearning clouds of sound. From this haze the cello emerges tentatively in a high register. The melodic content that follows derives most naturally from this gently ominous beginning – the movement’s architecture is impressive – Tinoco has balanced the soloist’s material against that of the sectional or tutti band most deftly. The fabric of this panel emerges with seamless inevitability – its detailed orchestration incorporating judiciously placed washes of echoing muted brass, while the piano often seems to gently pre-empt each successive phrase. The movement is a model of concision.

The excellent soloist Filipe Quaresma eloquently shapes the musical content that dominates the second movement in the form of a solemnly beautiful, rather modal ‘duo’ – this material will eventually be disseminated among the sections of the orchestra, which ultimately provides warm, re-assuring commentary. The piano again provides a restrained narrative in the background before the music becomes more expressive, as strident, assertive but rather creepy chords press the orchestra into more agitated, ominous content. The cello part becomes more declamatory and rebellious until a cadenza-like episode launches the finale. This opens with rapid triplets (of the type that feature toward the end of Part 1 of The Rite of Spring and which feature in the final work on this disc) – in fact these rhythmic gestures conceal any recognisable harmonic and melodic content at this point, thus focusing the listener’s attention squarely on the pulse of the piece which is exciting and relentless from the outset. Soon the fragmented melodies presented by the soloist herald a more pensive section, with reminiscences of the first two movements. Queresma’s performance here is truly assertive and committed, and as the piece heads to its conclusion it becomes more reflective, the drama subsides, while gentle harp and piano textures begin to emerge from the shadows. The slowing down here is almost mechanical, yet the impact of this is mysterious and eternal. The Orquestra Sinfónica Portuguesa under Pedro Neves support Queresma with some ravishingly beautiful playing. Tinoco’s Cello Concerto is an outstanding work and deserves the widest currency.

Frisland is an unashamedly clever piece which was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and whose name incorporates two unconnected ideas: the non-existent island of this name that appears in the North Atlantic on many maps of the early 16th century (supposedly a confusion of Southern Greenland and Iceland) to which Tinoco ascribes a ‘no-man’s land’ and thus ‘ambiguous’ quality; and the name of the versatile, influential (and Seattle-born) jazz guitarist Bill Frisell for whom this inventive and atmospheric piece is something of a tribute. Though Frisell’s work is never quoted directly the spirit of jazz haunts the phantom island of this piece in the guise of the regular muted trumpet textures, the bluesy minimalism of its central section, and in its rather mellow sensibility.

To my ears the weakest link on this disc is Before Spring, which carries the subtitle ‘A tribute to the Rite’. Again the subject is never quoted (until its final breath….), although many of the gestures, rhythms and figures Tinoco incorporates allude to Stravinsky. There are undeniably exciting elements to the orchestration here, and although the Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto Casa da Música under Martin André play the work quite brilliantly, I felt ultimately that it meandered around a bit and wasn’t completely certain of its brief, although its conclusion (THAT bassoon note) is clear-cut enough and ultimately justifies the work’s concept as well as its title.

This is another album from Odradek which compiles performances from multiple orchestras, recorded in different venues and yet again still manages to produce a consistent, vivid and realistically projected sound. The Blue Voice of the Water is a compelling, convincing and coherent overview of Tinoco’s recent orchestral music. Notwithstanding my reservations about the last piece I thoroughly enjoyed it. My research into this composer yielded the fact that he collaborated on an opera called ‘Evil Machines’ in 2008 with ex –Python Terry Jones; I wonder if this excellent label would be interested in bringing that to life? In the meantime this fine issue is a definite keeper.

Richard Hanlon

 




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