Braga Santos: Symphony No 4, Etc / Cassuto, Ireland Nso
In my review of the only other performance of this magnificent symphony (on Portugalsom), I expressed the hope that Álvaro Cassuto's forthcoming recording would not include the insipid chorus that the composer superimposed on the finale's coda at the suggestion of conductor Silva Pereira, an addition that creates an ending at once bombastic, anti-climactic, and incompatible with what had come before. Happily Cassuto agrees with this assessment, and so presents the work in its pristine, incomparably gorgeous original version. Although Santos was only 27 when he completed his Fourth Symphony, it represents a culmination of his first stylistic phase, that characterful mingling of Vaughan Williams (in its modal harmony), Respighi (the "Pines of Rome" climax of the slow movement), and Sibelius (scherzo of the Fourth Symphony) that comes out sounding wholly natural and homogenous.
The symphony's four well-balanced movements last more than 50 minutes, making this piece the composer's longest and grandest orchestral work in any form, and it all culminates in a finale whose allegro contains 10 of the most purely exhilarating minutes of orchestral writing that you will ever hear. In his excellent notes to this recording, conductor Cassuto expresses his disappointment that Santos gradually abandoned this appealing idiom after completing this symphony in 1951 and turned to more avant-garde musical explorations. Many music lovers will agree, but it's difficult to see what Santos could have done after this stunning work but repeat himself, however attractively, and I certainly would not want to be without the Fifth Symphony of 1965, one of the most astonishing and original of 20th century masterpieces in the medium.
In any event, Cassuto coaxes from his Irish players a performance of boundless energy and excitement. The allegro sections of both outer movements really rip, and Marco Polo has managed spectacular sonics: just listen to the way the recording captures Cassuto's steady build-up of the second movement's climactic march, from the soft thud of the bass drum through to its glowingly rich-textured brass summit. The same observations hold true for the Symphonic Variations, one of the most purely beautiful pieces of music in any medium (Santos obviously had an eye on the "Sunrise" from Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe in the work's first section). Once again, in playing the game of reminiscences it's easy to ignore the composer's originality, but the synthesis that he achieves in this music is wholly personal. This performance of the Fourth Symphony in particular, effectively its CD premiere, must be accounted an event of the first magnitude, not to be missed. On now, please, to the haunting Divertimento No. 1 and the concertos! [9/28/2002]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: 8225233
Label: Marco Polo
Composer: Joly Braga Santos
Conductor: Alvaro Cassuto
Orchestra/Ensemble: National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland