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Joly BRAGA SANTOS (1924–1988)
Chamber Music – Volume 3
Aria a tre con variazione Op.62 (1984) [9:07]
Improviso Op.70 (1988) [5:02]
Aria I (1946) [3:48]
Piece for flute and piano [2:38]
Aria I Op.2 (1943) [4:23]
Tema e Variações Op.12 (1948) [7:45]
Canção (1971) [1:52]
Aria II Op.57 (1977) [5:52]
Melodia (1987) [1:44]
Nocturno Op.1 (1942) [8:27]
António Siote (clarinet)
Leono Braga Santos (viola)
Carolino Carreira (bassoon)
Nuno Ivo Cruz (flute)
Catherine Strynckx (cello)
Irene Lima (cello)
Luis Pacheco Cunha (violin)
Olga Prats (piano)
rec. 4-6 April 2018 & 6-8 June 2018, Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0588 [50:40]

This is the third and final instalment in Toccata's series devoted to Joly Braga Santos' chamber music. Volume 1 (TOCC0207 - review) and Volume 2 (TOCC0428 - review) have been reviewed here some time ago.

Though he is quite often and deservedly regarded as a highly-distinguished symphonist, Braga Santos also composed a lot of chamber music although much of it is generally on a smaller scale than his symphonic output. Noteworthy exceptions, however, are the two string quartets, the masterly Piano Trio and the fairly impressive String Sextet. The pieces recorded here span his whole composing life from the early Nocturno Op.1 (1942) to his last work Improviso Op.70 (1988) completed a few days before his untimely death and performed posthumously some time later, so this release also provides a fair appraisal of Braga Santos' progress over all those years.

This release opens with what may be the most substantial work in this selection, i.e. the Aria a tre con variazione Op.62 for clarinet, viola and piano completed in 1984. The brief, slow introduction leads into a more animated section in which the viola has the lion's share. The more rhythmical central section has a feel of Prokofiev-like clear-cut piano writing. The final section is a beautiful example of Braga Santos' warm lyricism with viola and clarinet engaging in a searingly beautiful dialogue (a trade mark of Braga Santos).

As mentioned earlier, the Improviso Op.70 is Braga Santos' very last completed work. Although it is clearly from the same pen as so many other pieces by Braga Santos, the music here is somewhat more stringent than some and sometimes brings back echoes of, say, Poulenc's Clarinet Sonata composed in memory of Prokofiev. As implied in the title, the writing is free-flowing, at times capricious, and eventually ending in a mysterious nocturnal mood.

Aria I Op.2 for cello and piano is a beautifully expressive piece of modally inflected music that will sound familiar to any who knows the early symphonies and the First String Quartet. The composer's warm-hearted lyricism is already there in full with hints of folk-like tunes and Gregorian accents. It was composed in 1943 and the composer made a transcription of it for bassoon and piano three years later. All one can say about it is this transcription works remarkably well while shedding some different light on the work. The little Piece for flute and piano is undated and untitled but it clearly sounds as if it was written during the early forties, as much of the melismatic writing for flute is reminiscent of Ravel, Debussy and Vaughan Williams. It is a wonderful miniature, superbly written for the flute, which might be usefully taken up by flautists, if only as a lovely encore to end a recital.

Tema e Variações Op.12 for cello and piano is yet another fairly substantial, though quite concise, piece. As with so much music composed by Braga Santos at that time, the writing is again strongly modally inflected although the ensuing variations sometimes visit some new territories such as the rhythmic verve of the first variation and in the more intricately worked-out third variation which at times brings Bartók's Romanian Dances to mind. This compact piece is probably one of the finest in this release and a real ear-opener.

Both the Canção for viola and piano and the Melodia for cello and piano may be regarded as finely-chiselled teaching pieces of great charm and melodic appeal. As such, they offer a strong contrast to Aria II Op.57 for cello and piano, which is a good example of Braga Santos' music-making in the Seventies, when he set out to explore some freer tonality while retaining its innate lyrical nature. After all, I think that Braga Santos was first and foremost a composer for whom expression was paramount in musical matters, no matter how he may at times have diverged from his early inclinations, and Aria II Op.57 is one of the best examples of the expressive freedom he imparted in many of his late works.

This most rewarding release concludes with Braga Santos' early Nocturno Op.1 composed in 1942 when the composer was an eighteen-year-old budding musician. This is already a quite substantial piece of music still indebted to some of his early influences but already pointing to things to come. The coda of the piece is just magical in its apparent simplicity.

This third volume of Braga Santos' chamber music is yet another most welcome addition to the discography of this composer, whose large and varied output is now available on disc thanks to Toccata, Marco Polo and Naxos. Important works still remain to be recorded, but - and it is a big but – they are still subjected to financial strictures. However, one must be happy with what is already available and grateful to all the musicians taking part in this series. Their immaculate playing and whole-hearted commitment do this warmly expressive music full justice.

Hubert Culot



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