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Lopes-Graca: Symphony, Rustic Suite, December Poem / Cassuto, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Release Date: 05/29/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572892   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Fernando Lopes-Graça
Conductor:  Alvaro Cassuto
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

A superb selection of some of Lopes-Graça's finest works.

Portuguese composer Fernando Lopes-Graça (1908-93) is a difficult composer to pigeon-hole. His symphony in particular starts off a bit like Honegger’s First (sound clip below), but the neoclassical cut and thrust of its themes and rhythms, ostensibly owing something to Stravinsky, has the composer sounding more like his Latin American colleagues than his European brethren. Perhaps the most appealing single movement is its central Intermezzo, while the final Passacaglia, based on a very short theme, is equally short-winded, although it contains some very striking individual episodes when it takes the time to be a bit more expansive. Composed in 1944,
Read more this is a very interesting if nonetheless inconsistent work, and it’s well worth your attention.

Among the remaining pieces, the most intriguing is the Suite Rústica No. 1 (1950), a six-movement occasional work that manages to live up to its title without any obvious folkloric influences—rather, any folk idioms have been wholly absorbed into the composer’s personal style, much as was the case with Bartók. December Poem is a somber, reflective work whose free use of dissonance in a lyrical context makes for a bittersweet 10 minutes of introspection, while the Festival March is more combative than celebratory. Conductor Álvaro Cassuto has chosen these pieces wisely to display Lopes-Graça’s compositional range, and has compiled an excellent introduction to his art. As we have come to expect in this ongoing series, he also gets excellent results from the orchestra, and is very well recorded. Hopefully there’s more to come.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com


With his somewhat younger contemporary Joly Braga Santos, Fernando Lopes-Graça is undoubtedly one of the most important Portuguese composers from the first half of the 20 th century. His output is literally enormous and ranges from short didactic piano pieces to substantial works in various genres. He also devoted much time and scholarship to editing and arranging Portuguese folk music - a voice that is rarely absent in his own music.
The Suite Rústica No.1 dates from 1950 and its six movements are arranged in a straight-forward way though spiced with mild dissonance sometimes recalling Milhaud’s Suite Provençale. Four out of the six movements are simple dance tunes deftly arranged and colourfully scored but the two slower movements (No.3 - Andante and No.5 - Lento, non troppo) are somewhat more serious. Just listen to the almost Mahlerian Andante. Incidentally, Lopes-Graça did indeed compose three Rustic Suites but for different instrumental forces. Suite Rústica No.2 of 1965 is for string quartet (once available on Portugalsom SP 4036 reviewed here several years ago) and Suite Rústica No.3 is for wind ensemble; I do not know whether it has been recorded or not.
On the other hand there is not a single hint of folk music in Poema de Dezembre (“December Poem”). This is a meaty tone poem in which a rather dark and at times troubled mood prevails. The “red thread” running through the entire work is the oboe melody heard at the outset. It keeps reappearing in one guise or another and providing the dreamy coda of this very beautiful piece that definitely deserves wider exposure.
Festival March is by comparison slightly less satisfying, possibly because one expects something brighter and more festive than what one actually hears. Even so there are many felicitous touches of scoring in this short piece - try the eerily dancing horns (at about 0.50 into the work) that may remind one of Stravinsky's Petrushka. There is actually more than one hint of Stravinsky's music in this very piece and in other works of Lopes-Graça. This short work may not be among Lopes-Graça's greatest achievements but there are fine things enough in it to make it worth more than the occasional hearing.
Sinfonia per orquesta is Lopes-Graça's only symphony and one of his more substantial achievements. This is a weighty, deeply serious and sincere piece of music-making. It is in three sizeable movements of which the outer ones are by far the weightiest, the concluding Passacaglia particularly so. The very title of the first movement Allegro rapsodico is rather deceptive in that it actually conceals a developed and tightly argued sonata movement that builds to an imposing climax before reverting to the arresting gesture of the opening. The second movement Intermezzo may be shorter but is certainly not as easy-going as one might think. Its structure is more straightforward than that of the outer movements but the thematic material is rather angular and animated so that one might regard this movement as the symphony's Scherzo. As Álvaro Cassuto rightly states in his detailed and well informed insert notes, the third movement Passacaglia is the symphony's most complex movement. It is also the most difficult to bring out successfully. This is mainly because of the abruptness and capricious character of the variations that do not unfold as seamlessly as in, say, the final Passacaglia in Vaughan Williams' Fifth Symphony. The variations, however, proceed towards an imposing climax, probably the most impressive one in the entire work. This quickly dissipates and leads into the coda, in fact yet another variation on a fragment of the Passacaglia's theme. It consists of a mighty sound wave receding into softly sustained chords. Lopes-Graça's Symphony is unquestionably a big work and it deserves to be fully appreciated. It’s also a rather complex piece and a convincing performance calls for some considerable preparation and commitment. This it clearly gets in this strongly committed and well prepared reading - a feather in the cap of both Cassuto and the RSNO.
Álvaro Cassuto's association with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra has already yielded some rewarding results with their Braga Santos disc - Naxos 8.572815 that I reviewed here some time ago. The release under review clearly confirms that conductor and orchestra are obviously on the same wavelength. I hope that this association will go on for there is still much worthwhile music by Portuguese composers to travel outside Portugal. As far as Lopes-Graça's music goes there are many works that cry out for brand new recordings. I would welcome new recordings of História Trágica-Marítima, Viagens na minha terra and the imposing and deeply moving Requiem while not forgetting some of his concertos and miscellaneous orchestral works.
In short this is a magnificent release on all counts. The performances and the recording are superb but - more importantly - it allows for a good appraisal of some of this endearing composer's finest works. A bargain and no mistake. 

-- Hubert Culot , MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Suite Rustica no 1 by Fernando Lopes-Graça
Conductor:  Alvaro Cassuto
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950 
Poema de dezembro by Fernando Lopes-Graça
Conductor:  Alvaro Cassuto
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961 
Marcha festiva by Fernando Lopes-Graça
Conductor:  Alvaro Cassuto
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1954 
Sinfonia by Fernando Lopes-Graça
Conductor:  Alvaro Cassuto
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Outstanding- Naxos Does It Again! September 25, 2012 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "Naxos's remarkable ability to provide superb recordings of Portugese composers is providing a great service to classical music and music fans in general. Here is a a perfect illustration of this assertion. Who has previously heard of Fernando Lopes-Graca? Probably not many, yet once you listen to this excellent recording, you may well wish for more. Starting with the composition called Rustic Suite, a gentle and atmospheric work, the program then presents two short and more powerful pieces (December Poem and Festival March). All of these preliminary works are solid in themselves, but more importantly they set the mood for the major work, the striking Symphony for Orchestra. Although composed during World War 2, it sounds like it could have been written 50 years previously, at the end of the Romantic era with the turn of the 20th Century. Throughout the entire disk,the Royal Scottish National Orchestra plays superbly, and the sound quality of the recording is first rate. Those who have experienced the previous recordings from Naxos and Marco Polo of the works of Luis de Freitas Branco and Joly Braga Santos should be well aware of the very high quality of Portugese classical music. This recording continues that tradition. Very definitely recommended." Report Abuse
 Pleasant to listen to August 4, 2012 By paul m. (simpsonville, SC) See All My Reviews "I never heard of Lopes-Graca before but knowing the music of Freitas-Braga and Braga-Santos I figured I would give it a try. The music is truly wonderful, full of great passages and tuneful melodies. I'm so glad I tried it and I'm rally enjoying it." Report Abuse
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