Roger Muraro / Benjamin Shwartz / Gulbenkian Orchestra

Vasco Mendonça: Step Right Up

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The music of composer Vasco Mendonça can't be classified according to neoclassical (or neo-Romantic) versus modernist dichotomies, and it has been gaining admirers in his home base of Lisbon and even beyond. These three works give an introduction to his style. He does not use conventional tonality and can be quite brash, but his aesthetic is rooted in classical forms, however much they may be remade. Mendonça calls Group Together, Avoid Speech (2012) a "Baroque concerto grosso on steroids," and Step Right Up (2018) is a piano concerto of sorts (the English-language titles are a bit obscure), but it goes far beyond the conventional opposition of piano and orchestra. Mendonça deals in sharp contrasts, but he accomplishes them in several other ways, all exemplified in the opening movement of Step Right Up. Unanswerable Light, written as a memorial to a friend of the composer, is a more meditative work but no less edgy and innovative. It's a real pleasure to hear the venerable Gulbenkian Orchestra in this music; its moderate size is perfectly suited to the repertory, and conductor Benjamin Shwartz gets the composer's energy. Highly worthwhile stuff from a corner of Europe not much heard from lately.

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