Lopes-Graça: Divertimento, Sinfonieta, & More Orchestral Works / Borralhinho, Portuguese Symphony Orchestra
Fernando Lopes-Graça was one of Portugal’s greatest composers of the 20th century, whose artistic credo was the binding together of the folk music of his native country with modern techniques to create an alternative and original national identity. With its constantly shifting tonal context the Divertimento perfectly captures Lopes-Graça’s inimitable style, which is further enriched in the concisely constructed Sinfonieta by his admiration for Haydn. The moving, even tragic Cinco Velhos Romances Portugueses are based on traditional ballads while the challenging Quatro Invenções, in the composer’s words, explore ‘essentially atonal dramatic expressionism’.
Composer Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906-94) has been described as sort of a Portuguese Bartók, and with good reason. His music in strongly folk-influenced, but never merely “folksy.” He managed to reflect these nationalist origins in an uncompromisingly modernist style, including atonal expressionist elements (think Ginastera), while still giving listeners more than enough to make the effort worthwhile. This is very evident in considering the program at hand–ostensibly “light” music that still has plenty of meat on its bones.
The Divertimento (1957), scored mostly for winds, is a spiky, harmonically acerbic work in seven brief movements whose humor and verve go hand in hand with a harmonic density that makes the work sound more expensive than it really is. The Sinfonietta “Homage to Haydn” evokes its nominal inspiration without ever resorting to mere imitation–except for one movement of literal quotation that’s all the more shocking (and funny) in its context. I won’t give away the joke, but it’s delicious. Cinco Velhos Romances Portugueses offers sensitive instrumental settings of traditional songs passed down through the centuries among Portuguese women. The Four Inventions for Solo Cello (1961) allegedly belong to the composers atonal expressionist style, but they are quite easy to follow, intensely lyrical, and consistently ear-catching–and I’m not usually a fan of music for solo strings.
In the first three works conductor/cellist Bruno Borralhinho gets fresh and lively playing from the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra, making an excellent case for the composer and these particular works. He also plays a mean cello in the Four Inventions, and Naxos provides the necessary clean and clear engineering. This is good stuff.
-- ClassicsToday.com (David Hurwitz)
Release Date: June 10, 2022
Catalog Number: 8574373
Number of Discs: 1
Composer: Fernando Lopes-Graça
Conductor: Bruno Borralhinho
Orchestra/Ensemble: Portuguese Symphony Orchestra