Braga Santos: Staccato brilhante; Nocturno; Divertimento No. 1; Divertimento No. 2; Cello Concerto

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COMPOSERS: Braga Santos
LABELS: Marco Polo
WORKS: Staccato brilhante; Nocturno; Divertimento No. 1; Divertimento No. 2; Cello Concerto
PERFORMER: Jan Bastiaan Neven (cello); Algarve Orchestra/Álvaro Cassuto
CATALOGUE NO: 8.225271
This collection spans Joly Braga Santos’s creative career, from the very early Nocturno for strings (clearly written by someone who knew Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia) to the Cello Concerto and the scintillating toccata Staccato brilhante written over 40 years later at the end of his life. ‘Early’ and ‘late’ Braga Santos are exemplified by the two Divertimenti – No. 1 a spirited RVW-ish treatment of Portuguese folk melodies, No. 2 (1978) a spiky, chromatic, abstract string-orchestra score that wouldn’t be out of place in proximity to Ligeti. Pride of place must go, however, to the Cello Concerto (1987), a predominantly brooding, even anguished work in a three-movement, moderate-fast-slow design. This seems to me to contain some of Braga Santos’s most eloquent music, and the Dutch-born Jan Bastiaan Neven, principal cello of the Algarve Orchestra, expounds it with great sensitivity. He brings out the innate nobility of Braga Santos’s fluid melodic line, displays a remarkable range of tone colour for the often very challenging writing, and moves in and out of dialogue with various sections of the orchestra with great skill (the musical focus is continually shifting and the cello part is often more obbligato than solo). Álvaro Cassuto adds to his discography as Braga Santos’s prime champion in these elegant and focused performances. The Algarve Orchestra copes admirably with the comparatively straightforward early scores and the considerably more intricate and wayward late ones. Calum MacDonald