COMPOSERS: Braga Santos
LABELS: Marco Polo
WORKS: Concerto for Strings; Sinfonietta for Strings; Concerto for Violin, Cello, Strings & Harp; Variations Concertantes for Strings & Harp
PERFORMER: Bradley Creswick (violin), Alexander Somov (cello), Sue Blair (harp); Northern Sinfonia/Álvaro Cassuto
CATALOGUE NO: 8.225186
As I’ve remarked in reviewing previous CDs of Portugal’s premier 20th-century symphonist, the facts of Anglo-Portuguese cultural exchange meant the young Joly Braga Santos grew up with Walton and Vaughan Williams as prime influences, and the comparatively early but superbly assured Concerto for Strings (1950) will appeal directly to any fan of RVW or Howells. There is a Bartókian tincture to the music, too – the work could also be compared with Miklós Rózsa’s String Concerto – but the ‘English’ strain comes increasingly to the fore in the 5/4 country-dance finale.
Braga Santos was, however, a steady developer in his own terms, as the other works in this programme eloquently demonstrate. The Sinfonietta for 12 solo strings, given an intense and exciting performance here, turns the Bartókian chromatic element in a more Bergian direction, with some 12-note writing, well assimilated to Braga Santos’s evolving harmonic idiom. The two later concertante works, more dissonant still, are very impressive – especially the highly polyphonic Concerto for violin, cello, strings and harp (1968), which concludes with a large-scale, haunting Adagio. The Concerto for strings and the infonietta are available on a Koch Schwann CD in rival accounts by the Orquestra Clássica do Porto under Meïr Minsky, but Álvaro Cassuto (the Sinfonietta’s dedicatee) turns in what seem more vital and idiomatic performances. The playing and recording are of a high standard; the disc broadens our knowledge of a fine, and likeable, 20th-century composer. Calum MacDonald