Braga Santos: Symphony No. 4; Symphonic Variations on a Popular Song from the Alentejo

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Braga Santos
LABELS: Marco Polo
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphonic Variations on a Popular Song from the Alentejo
PERFORMER: National SO of Ireland/Álvaro Cassuto
CATALOGUE NO: 8.225233
Here Álvaro Cassuto concludes his cycle of Portugal’s most notable symphonist – though not, I hope, the series as a whole, for there remain other Braga Santos orchestral works in need of recordings as good as these. As I’ve said about previous volumes, this is a composer tailor-made to appeal to fans of British music, given his youthful devotion to Vaughan Williams, Walton and Sibelius, reflected in the first four symphonies. Symphony No. 4 (1950) is indeed the climax of this early period, written on an epic scale with a notably Sibelian scherzo and a driving finale whose main subject lodges in the mind for days. If the final hymnic apotheosis seems a little trite – and Braga Santos was unsure about it, recasting it with a chorus, which Cassuto has decided against using here – the work as a whole is a noble and enlivening one, particularly rich in its melodic material. The fine set of Symphonic Variations (1951) on a tune from the Alentejo region of Portugal makes an excellent coupling. Cassuto recorded the Variations many years ago on an Imavox LP with the Portuguese Radio Symphony Orchestra, but that version is entirely outclassed by this one. Not only does the Irish orchestra, on absolutely top form, sound as if it’s in love with every note of Braga Santos’s music, but the recording – vivid and of very wide range – is among the best Marco Polo has given us. Heartily recommended. Calum MacDonald