About this Recording
8.573461 - Cello and Orchestra Music (Portuguese) - COSTA, L. / LOPES-GRAÇA, F. / FREITAS BRANCO, L. de / BRAGA SANTOS, J. (Borralhinho, Neves)
English  Portuguese 

Portuguese Music for Cello and Orchestra


Luiz Costa (1879–1960): Poema
(completed and orchestrated by Pedro Faria Gomes)

Although his name and music are less well-known than those of the other three composers represented on this album, Luiz Costa was a prominent figure in Portuguese music in the first half of the twentieth century, particularly in Porto, the city in which he was born and spent most of his life. His first teacher was his future father-in-law Bernardo Moreira de Sá (1853–1924), founder of the Orpheon Portuense concert society (1881) and the Moreira de Sá Quartet—whose members included cellist Guilhermina Suggia—and first director of the Porto Conservatory. Costa himself went on to study in Berlin, with José Viana da Mota and Ferruccio Busoni, among others. Having returned to Porto, he established a busy and varied career as a pianist, composer and teacher—he succeeded Moreira de Sá as director of both the Orpheon Portuense and the Conservatory. He left a catalogue of around 180 works, in various genres, but showing a preference for his own instrument. Regrettably, his music is still under-appreciated and only a small selection of his scores have been either published or recorded. The original version of Poema, for cello and piano, was written in the 1950s: Costa began working on an orchestral adaptation in 1956, but this was never completed. The version heard here was completed and orchestrated in 2008 by Pedro Faria Gomes (b. 1979) in response to a request from cellist Madalena Sá e Costa, the composer’s daughter. Based on the original manuscript and Costa’s own notes about his planned orchestration, Poema is cast in a single sonata-form movement with an extended coda. Its numerous changes of atmosphere and character, and impressionistic, at times luxuriant, harmonies, give the work a sense of scale and reveal the composer’s talent for both harmonic and melodic invention. In the final section, and in keeping with the spirit of the piece, Faria Gomes has introduced a cadenza for the soloist.

Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906–94): Concerto da Camera col Violoncello Obbligato, Op. 167

Born in Tomar, Fernando Lopes-Graça was one of the foremost figures in twentieth-century Portuguese music, excelling as a composer, pianist, teacher, essayist, critic and choral director. An outspoken opponent of the Salazar régime, he was arrested and imprisoned more than once, and saw his career suffer at times because of his political activities. Lopes-Graça studied with Tomás Borba, Luís de Freitas Branco and José Viana da Mota, among others, later working with Charles Koechlin in Paris, where he lived from 1937 to 1939. It was in Paris that he began to take an interest in traditional and folk music, an area he continued to explore and incorporate into his own works following his return to Portugal, although always in a very personal manner and in a way far removed from the dictatorship’s nationalist promotion of folk arts. Lopes-Graça’s Concerto da Camera col Violoncello Obbligato (Chamber Concerto for Obbligato Cello) was written between 1965 and 1966, in response to a commission from Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the work’s première on 6th October 1967, in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, with the Moscow Philharmonic under the baton of Kirill Kondrashin (a performance recorded for posterity). This is without doubt one of the composer’s finest works, and one of the most representative of his mature years. Its sombre, dissonant and somewhat austere tone, which it shares incidentally with another of his masterpieces, the Canto de Amor e Morte (Song of Love and Death, for piano and string quartet), can be heard from the enigmatic opening theme, which goes on to shape the entire musical discourse. Intensely chromatic, sometimes obsessive, sometimes claustrophobic, this theme is, in all likelihood, a reflection of the social and political context of the day.

Luís de Freitas Branco (1890–1955): Cena Lírica

Luís de Freitas Branco was born into an aristocratic family in Lisbon, and went on to play a key rôle in the Portuguese music scene in the first half of the last century. His teachers included Tomás Borba, Désiré Pâque and, in Berlin, Engelbert Humperdinck, and he had a successful career not only as a composer but as a teacher, critic and musicologist, publishing a huge quantity of work. His talent for composition became evident when he was still very young, barely a teenager, and over the course of his life Freitas Branco produced a extensive body of work in a wide range of styles and genres and shows him to have been a composer of enormous creative energy—he was in the vanguard, for example, when it came to introducing Modernism into Portuguese music. Cena Lírica (Lyrical Scene) received its première in Lisbon on 9th April 1916, when it was performed by soloist Maria Júlia Fontes Pereira de Melo, accompanied by the Orquestra Sinfónica Portuguesa and Pedro Blanch. This is the composer’s first work for solo instrument and orchestra, predating by just a few months his Violin Concerto, a work of overt Classical inspiration in which Franckian influences can be heard. Cena Lírica, therefore, was written before the composer consciously adopted a Neo-classical style in the 1920s (the key works of this period being his four symphonies). Years later, in the 40s, Freitas Branco revised Cena Lírica, notably making a series of alterations to the original orchestral writing. The work opens with a cor anglais solo, which is then imitated by the cello. After this, the music takes on a more urgent feel, with the cello in its upper register accompanied by agitated strings—after an initial peak in intensity, these roles are reversed. There follows a wonderfully lyrical declamation from the soloist, highlighting the tonal qualities of the cello, before another peak heralds the final appearance of the opening theme.

Joly Braga Santos (1924–88): Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 66

An eminent pupil and close friend of Luís de Freitas Branco, Lisbon-born Joly Braga Santos led parallel careers as a composer, conductor, critic and teacher. He is best known for his orchestral works—in particular, for his symphonies, which are unquestionably the most significant works in the genre by any Portuguese composer of the last century. His Cello Concerto arose from a commission from the Gulbenkian Foundation and was completed in March 1987, making it one of his last works. Structured in three movements (Moderato, Allegro and Andante, in other words slow–fast–slow, the opposite of conventional concerto form) which are played without a break, it is sometimes described as a work for orchestra, or a symphonic poem, with solo cello. And indeed, at various times in the first movement, the orchestra seems to take over and subjugate the soloist, who seems only permitted to make the occasional comment, as if there in a purely observational capacity. The work begins with an enigmatic oboe solo, which is taken up first by the flute and then the clarinet. A long and complex melodic line, with echoes of both Stravinsky and Debussy, shapes the Moderato’s soundscape—chromatic, dark in tone and intensely expressive. While this movement is haunted by an air of lament, or meditative mystery, more overtly vigorous sections appear in the central Allegro. Here the cello takes on a more prominent, virtuosic rôle, as if the soloist were now keen to outdo the orchestra, which counters with violent chords. The mysterious opening lament then resurfaces at the start of the Andante, in the woodwind. The atmosphere remains sombre and angular, despite more luminous harmonies here and there, as the music sinks towards the lower register and, gradually, fades into silence. The Cello Concerto was premièred on 9th May 1988 by Célia Vital, with the Orquestra Gulbenkian conducted by Michel Swierczewski.

Francisco Sassetti
English translation by Susannah Howe

Close the window