Luís de Freitas Branco

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Freitas Branco
Symphony No.1
Scherzo fantastique
Suite Alentejana No.1

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
Álvaro Cassuto

Recorded 10 & 11 September 2007 in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: September 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570765
Duration: 61 minutes

 

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This is the first of four Naxos discs to be devoted to the orchestral music of Portuguese composer Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955).

Symphony No.1 (1924) is a real find. From the depths there emerges an outdoor feel, a burgeoning expression, deft and darting; from dawn to the freshness of a spring day (if you will). This is lovely music, immediately engaging, and while not without moments of stress and introspection, the movement’s circularity of structure and richly lyrical expression makes an individual and very pleasing impression, the ensuing slow movement heart-aching in its beauty while also conjuring green rolling hills through warm orchestral sonorities. Such enchanted mysticism is briefly sidetracked by the pastoral frolics of a nifty scherzo-like section.

The optimistic finale brings us closest to the symphony’s model, César Franck’s Symphony in D minor, but whilst one cannot defend Freitas Branco from some cribbing, what he writes is charming enough to make comparisons meaningless, even if the ‘struggle’ between light and dark that pre-occupies this last movement is somewhat contrived. Optimism wins! If Freitas Branco didn’t entirely solve the ‘finale problem’, his First Symphony gives enormous pleasure.

Recorded for the first time is Scherzo fantastique (1907), a scintillating and refined miniature with witty dance-like contrasts. The first of the Alentejana suites (1917) preserves music indigenous to the Alentejo region of Portugal that Freitas Branco knew first-hand spending many summers there. Whether shepherd-songs, lullabies or a foot-stamping fandango, the music is unfailing tuneful, atmospheric and colourful.

Álvaro Cassuto long ago proved his dedication to Portuguese composers (not least Joly Braga Santos). With fine playing from the RTÉ Orchestra, vividly recorded, this first volume of Luís de Freitas Branco’s orchestral music certainly whets the appetite for more.

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