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Joly BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988)
Piano Quartet Op.28 (1957) [14:41]
Suite of Dances Op. 63 (1984) [12:45]
Piano Trio Op.64 (1985) [27:48]
Adagio e Scherzino (1956) [6:41]
Suite for Brass (1985) [9:25]
rec. 2017/18, Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon

This release, the second volume of a hopefully ongoing series devoted to Joly Braga Santos' chamber music, has much to offer indeed, since two major works feature along with three comparative rarities.

The Piano Quartet Op.28 of 1958 is a compact piece in one single movement remarkable for its formal and thematic coherence, still emphasized by the cyclical nature of the material, something that Braga Santos learned from his mentor Luis de Freitas Branco without ever attempting blunt imitation. Quite the contrary, for the music is again deeply personal in its warm lyricism, rhythmic energy and sweeping harmony and – above all – supreme music-making that makes the listener oblivious of the tautly knit argument sustaining the entire work.

Much of the same could be said about the magnificent Piano Trio Op.64, though this is a quite substantial piece of music in three highly contrasted movements of which the final Lento is by far the weightiest. The opening Largo functions as a prelude of some sort and its eerie, mysterious beginning (string harmonics) slowly leads to a more assertive central section reverting to the opening mood. The central Allegro unleashes a great wave of almost inexhaustible rhythmic energy. The concluding Lento (twice as long as the preceding movements) is in complete contrast to what has been heard before. The music paints some “rarefied landscape” (Bernardo Mariano) reminiscent of the opening of the first movement. The music then slowly unfolds towards what Mariano refers to as an intermediate coda, preparing for the coda proper, which returns for the last time to the opening mood of the piece (string harmonics) before slowly fading away. Braga Santos' marvellous Piano Trio is one of his finest achievements and one of the finest ever composed in the 20th century. Interestingly enough, this splendid reading is the third one that has come my way over the years. One was available on PortugalSom PS5015 with the Piano Quartet and the masterly String Sextet and, more recently still, a very fine performance was released on Naxos 8.574014 (Portuguese Piano Trios – Volume 2).

Although some of them have been recorded before, probably during the LP era, the other works here may be regarded as rarities, though well worth a hearing. The Suite de Danças Op.63 is scored for a rather unusual combination of piano, oboe, viola and double bass. This is a lovely piece in a somewhat lighter mood. It consists of three short movements: an energetic Allegro, a Sarabanda and a final lively Tarantela capped by a brilliant coda.

The wind quintet Adagio e Scherzino is a delightful piece, although the music may not be as simple as it seems. The Adagio might be experienced as a study in polyphony, particularly so in the outer sections whereas the lovely Scherzino definitely has a folk-like feel. Listening to it for the first time I wondered by I had not heard it before – any wind quintet worth its salt should have it in its repertoire.

The final work here is rarer still for it had never been recorded before. The Suite para instrumentos de metal (Suite for Brass), too, is in three short movements although the music is far from straightforward. The opening Moderato has the trumpets playing piano and con sordino, the whole suggesting some mysterious, nocturnal atmosphere. The following Allegro rather tends to disrupt the nocturnal mood and contains some contrasting material of a more modal character. The final Andante is somewhat more complex in that it aims at synthesising the chromatic material of the first movement and the modal one of the second movement. The piece concludes with a series of assertive chords. Incidentally, the Suite for Brass is a rarity in Braga Santos' output but some may be interested to know that he also composed a very fine work for wind orchestra, Otonifonias Op.56, that is still unrecorded at the time of writing though it can be heard on Youtube.

All works here are played with remarkable assurance, commitment and deep musicality by musicians who clearly love the music. The Piano Quartet and the Piano Trio are undoubtedly the core of this release but I cannot think of any admirer of Braga Santos' music not wanting to investigate some byways of his output. In short, this is a very fine release by any count and I urge anyone enjoying Braga Santos' music to explore it without delay.

Hubert Culot

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf
Jill Lawson, piano (quartet, dances, trio)
Eliot Lawson, violin (quartet, trio)
Natalia Tchitch, viola (quartet, dances)
Catherine Strynckx, cello (quartet, trio)
Adriano Aguiar, double bass (dances)
Ricardo Lopes, oboe (suite, adagio)
Nuno Ivo Cruz, flute (adagio)
António Saiote, clarinet (adagio)
Carolino Carreira, bassoon (adagio)
Paulo Guerreiro, horn (adagio, brass)
Jorge Almeida, trumpet (brass)
António Quítalo, trumpet (brass)
Pedro Monteiro, trumpet (brass)
Jarrett Butler, trombone (brass)
Vítor Faria, trombone (brass)
Ilídio Massacote, tuba (brass)

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