SANTOS: "Staccato brillante", Divertimento No. 2, Concerto in D, Sinfonietta, "Elegia a Vianna da Motta". Meir Minsky conducting the Orquesta Classica do Porto KOCH-SCHWANN 3-1510-2 [DDD] 62:10.
"Though he wrote six symphonies, three operas, several concertos, ballets and much film music, was conductor in the 1950s of the Oporto Symphony Orchestra and later was a lecturer at the Lisbon Conservatory, the name of Joly Braga Santos is all but unknown outside his native Portugal. Unless I am mistaken, this is the first disc of his music to be issued in this country; and it serves to chart the stylistic changes from the age of 24 until his death 40 years later in 1988, of a composer who, it is very clear, deserves to be much better known. The earliest piece here is a heartfelt elegy for the distinguished pianist Vianna da Motta (a Liszt pupil, contemporary and friend of Busoni): its central section is a funeral cortège treated in the style of medieval organum. A taste for modality is evident in the attractively neo-classical Concerto in D (1951), which can be cordially recommended as repertoire for string orchestras everywhere: it contains a particularly eloquent slow movement and a vigorous upbeat rondo finale in 5/8 time.
A big change then came over the composer's style after he had gone to study further - conducting with Hermann Scherchen, composition with Virgilio Mortari (though he himself attributed the change to "perception of the dynamic of the musical universe", whatever that means). The 1963 Sinfonietta, whose variety of texture is a notable feature, not only embraces atonality (but not dodecaphony) but is imbued with an aggressive tone of voice, with a muscular first movement, a tense Adagio and an angrily pugnacious finale (presented with full-blooded energy and commitment by the admirable strings of this young orchestra, which was founded only three years ago). Braga Santos's musical idiom had become more extreme by 1978, when the Divertimento No. 2 (also for strings only) was written. There is nothing "diverting" in the entertaining sense about this: it is a highly dramatic work, the first of whose two movements is overhung by an atmosphere of menace which builds to a fearsome climax before finally subsiding, and whose second is characterized by tense agitation with violent eruptions and vicious snarls. Three months before the composer's death he penned the playful Staccato brilhante, a tiny jeu d'esprit in which he returned to diatonicism. Performances throughout this disc are excellent and the recording is first-class. Do try this."
The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors
"It is always a source of joy and excitement to introduce a composer of world-class stature whose origins are somewhat outside the boundaries of the mainstream, and the Portuguese Joly Braga Santos (1924-88) fully qualifies. Although Portugal played a role in the musical life of the pre-Baroque era, its subsequent eclipse was not dissipated until the early years of this century when Luiz de Freitas Branco (18901955) re-established a connection with late-Romantic and early-impressionist developments on the continent. Although the older and de Falla-like Fernando Lopes-Graca (b. 1906) was the first of de Freitas's many pupils to make an independent name for himself. There's no argument about Santos being the most talented of his students from the younger generation. Over the past fifteen years or so the Portuguese have been issuing a distinguished series of compact discs documenting the accomplishments of this school. Unfortunately these have not received wide distribution here: only Records International of Goleta. California has imported them on a regular basis. So this Koch-Schwann is the first appearance - a trial balloon perhaps?- of any music by Santos under the auspices of a large international distributor.During the close to four decades of his creative activity, Santos's style underwent a dramatically irresistible evolution from the eloquent medieval modalisms (which have many points in common with the modal idioms of Vaughan Williams, Bloch. and Kodály) as couched in lucid neo-Baroque forms, heard especially in the 1951 Concerto in D here and somewhat modified in the later 1963 Sinfonietta. to a highly charged. more densely rhapsodic chromaticism which occasionally verged on the atonal. (Incidentally, the producer's overall designation of this program as "orchestral" is strictly speaking misleading as all except the relatively brief opening and closing works here are written for string orchestra alonewhich was in fact one of Santos's favorite and most characteristic mediums.) This gradual transformation of his style is amply demonstrated by the conspicuous contrast between the retrospective idiom of the traditionally conceived Fourth Symphony of 1950 and the florid and convoluted single-movement Fifth Symphony written sixteen years later and in this listener's opinion one of the most sublimely searching symphonic statements of the past quarter century. Both symphonies - together with two others -are available on CD from the above-mentioned source. For an approximation of this development here, compare the eloquent Elegia of the early 5Os with the knottier diptych of the second Divertimento of 1978. The only actual premiere recording here is of the two-and-one-half-minute overture-like Siaccato brillante of 1988, one of the composer's last works, whose effervescent dynamism gives but an inkling of the master Santos had turned into during his final years. However, for those who are coming to Santos for the first time (practically everybody), this release will serve as preliminary entrée to his unique sound world. But an integral recording of all size of his symphonies - plus two large-scale variations scores - would be most welcome. Marco Polo, are you listening?"
Paul A. Snook