Alvaro Cassuto

Luís de Freitas Branco: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2

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Naxos' intriguing series of releases devoted to Portuguese music has already devoted one disc to the music of Luís de Freitas Branco, the most prominent Portuguese composer of the first half of the twentieth century. This release features the composer's Symphony No. 2, written in 1926 and 1927 and including a dash of many of the styles that were in the air at the time in the Romance-language sphere. Annotator Álvaro Cassuto throws up his hands and proclaims the style of Freitas Branco's four symphonies "neo-classical-romantic," but he really should have added some reference to Impressionism. The Andantino con moto second movement offers straightforward antique-flavored melodies that you might guess were products of Respighi, but such moments of simplicity are balanced, or contradicted, by an intricate cyclical motivic scheme linking the work's four movements. The symphony is an ambitious work, but possibly of the most interest to general listeners are the two 10-minute tone poems that round out the program. Composed in 1909 and 1910, respectively, these pieces reveal an original talent. The jocular After a Reading of Guerra Junqueiro is strongly influenced by Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel but contains its high spirits within a smaller palette; it's a fine and virtually unknown comic work of the twentieth century. The best is saved for last with the fascinating Artificial Paradises, which Cassuto terms Impressionistic but which has a mysterious quality all its own. Slow in tempo throughout, the work also relies on melodic cells. It makes use of chord clusters that hint at bitonality and features a large orchestra broken up into shifting small groups. The title comes from Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an Opium Eater, as translated into French by Baudelaire and then retranslated into English. It's a real trip, as far afield as any other work of its time. The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland shows impressive sympathy with the music, and the sound environment of the National Concert Hall in Dublin is ideal.

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