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Freitas Branco’s Symphonic Poem Vathek Recorded for Naxos

May 17, 2010

‘Freitas Branco’s Vathek, a symphonic poem written in 1913, is by far the most important work of its time in Portuguese music, with atonal approaches which were until then unknown. For instance there are two 12 tone chords, and tone clusters which, at the time, had not even been invented by the European avant garde. It is also a most beautiful work, modern yet deeply Romantic, alternately grandiose and delicate, with gorgeous atmospheric passages. The musical theme of Vathek is an authentic oriental melody, published in History of Music by August Wilhelm Ambros, Leipzig, 1862.

‘It was inspired by a Gothic novel published in French by William Beckford (1760–1844), “the wealthiest son of England” according to Lord Byron, who spent time in Portugal, exiled from England for moral reasons. The story is about Vathek, a Calif who build five palaces, each one dedicated to one of the human senses, a hedonistic story which obviously appealed a lot to the young Freitas Branco. Vathek is therefore divided into Introduction, Theme (Vathek), Prologue, five Variations and Epilogue.

‘Beckford followed himself the example of his novel, building in England a “castle cum monastery”, Fonthill Abbey, a building of gigantic proportions, which introduced the neo-gothic style and attracted a lot of interest, but was destroyed some years after it was built. So this is a work with an interesting story behind it.

‘The Fourth Symphony has been generally acknowledged in Portugal as the best of the composers four symphonies, and I must fully agree with this assessment. Like the Symphony No. 2, it is based on a Gregorian chant which is presented at the opening, and although it reappears here and there, the work develops freely following the four movement scheme Allegro – Adagio – Scherzo – Finale: Allegro.’

Álvaro Cassuto, conductor


Naxos has also released several other recordings of Freitas Branco’s orchestral music:

FREITAS BRANCO Orchestral Works Vol 1
– Symphony No 1, Scherzo fantasique,
Suite alentejana No 1

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
Álvaro Cassuto, conductor


‘Álvaro Cassuto is of course familiar to collectors from his series of orchestral works by Joly Braga Santos (one that I hope is ongoing—there’s still come good stuff there). He’s not only an authority on the Portuguese school, but he projects his knowledge of the composers and their various idioms with unfailing enthusiasm and stylishness, making this latest release an easy recommendation.’
– 9/9 Classics Today

FREITAS BRANCO Orchestral Works Vol 2
– Symphony No 2, After a Reading of Guerra Junqueiro, Artificial Paradises

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
Álvaro Cassuto, conductor


‘Cassuto, an expert in his native repertoire, conducts fine and nuanced readings of these works, while the Irish musicians are recorded cleanly…A top recommendation.’
– Fanfare

FREITAS BRANCO Orchestral Works Vol 3
– Symphony No 3, The Death of Manfred,
Suite alentejana No 2

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
Álvaro Cassuto, conductor


Naxos’s acclaimed survey of Luís de Freitas Branco’s orchestral works continues with his magisterial Third Symphony which, although composed in 1944, revels in Romantic melodrama and luminous orchestral sonorities. The brooding, agitated atmosphere of his tone poem The Death of Manfred for strings contrasts with the expansive Suite Alentejana No. 2, with its evocations of the rural landscape, folklore and village life of the Alentejo region south-east of Lisbon, where the composer owned a large estate and composed many of his works.

Álvaro Cassuto Biography & Discography


Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group