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Santoro: Symphonies Nos 5 & 7

Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra/Neil Thomson (Naxos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Santoro
Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 7, Brasília
Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra/Neil Thomson
Naxos 8.574402   70:58 mins

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Mid-20th-century Brazil was a site of music-political foment for composers following in Villa-Lobos’s wake. Like many, the young Claudio Santoro (1919-89) became embroiled in heated debates around nationalism and folk music, serialism and the avant-garde, and his style would change radically through his career. Producing 14 symphonies and much else, he would prove one of the country’s leading musical figures.

The symphonies on this first volume of a projected cycle date from his nationalist turn in the 1950s. Yet their stylistic reach goes further than their broadly conventional post-Romantic idiom and four-movement structures might suggest. Both the Symphony No. 5 (1955) and Symphony No. 7, tellingly subtitled Brasília (1959, commemorating the country’s new capital), show a preference for abstracted rather than overt use of folk material. While both feature scherzos involving Brazilian percussion, its deployment does not merely invoke local colour, but springs from rhythmic and thematic underpinnings that integrate the music.

Piquant modal inflections suffuse the Fifth, from its dark-hued, mysterious string opening to its vigorous yet firmly non-triumphalist finale. The journey is navigated with aplomb by the Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Neil Thomson. Deftly woven counterpoint is contrasted with off-beat rhythms and expansive melodies that showcase each section of the orchestra to effect.

Initially similar, the Seventh veers into more challenging territory with Stravinsky-esque, angular rhythms and motifs. Not quite so cohesive, it’s nonetheless a tantalising glimpse of Santoro’s stylistic swerves to come.

Steph Power

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