Freitas Branco: Symphony No.1; Suite Alentejana
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Luis de Freitas Branco was a pre-eminent figure in Portuguese music of the first half of the twentieth century. This first disc of a four-volume series of Freitas Branco' orchestral works features the First Symphony, in which the influence of Cesar Franc
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The aforementioned Scherzo Fantastique, however, is not a reason to obtain this disc. Composed when the composer was 17, it does sport some local color and certainly displays some compositional skill, but it is a long shot from being great music. The first symphony is a different matter, however. Composed in 1924, it is a post-romantic work, relatively easy on the ear, and owes a great deal to the Flemish and French tradition after César Franck, though with plenty of color and somewhat more forward-looking harmonies – particularly “Portuguese” it isn’t (as far as I can tell), apart from the fact that those familiar with the music of Braga Santos (and you should be) would probably hear a certain similarity in phrasing and melodic material. No, it is not a lost masterpiece, and there are places where the composer reverts to note-spinning, but there are certainly plenty of good ideas as well, and overall I am happy to have made the encounter.
The Suite Allenteja no. 1 is richly colorful and catchy, hardly profound but very appealing. And as oppose to the other works, the music here is firmly anchored in Portuguese folk music and folklore – though it is a bit unclear to me whether the tunes are Freitas Branco’s own or real folktunes; they’re at least appealing and memorable. The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra plays with plenty of color and energy and spirit under Álvaro Cassuto, though some of the textures could ideally have been a little more opulent. In any case, the sound is good, and overall this is a very welcome release.