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Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, December 2012

Lopes-Graça as well as his slightly younger colleague Joly Braga Santos was an important figure in Portuguese contemporary music. His music had been well served many years ago but most recordings are now out of print. So this generous release including his impressive Symphony is most welcome and is the best possible introduction to Lopes-Graça’s music so far. Both performances and recording are excellent. © 2012 MusicWeb International

Paul A. Snook
Fanfare, November 2012

…a perfect introduction to [Lopes-Graça’s] highly civilized and communicative art. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Mark L Lehman
American Record Guide, September 2012

…this new Naxos offers a fresh and tangy personality to listeners unfamiliar with Lopes-Graça. The 35-minute, three-movement symphony—the composer’s only one—is from 1944. Full of color and movement yet tightly and cunningly constructed with neo-classical precision, it radiates vigor, confidence, and purpose but never veers into excess or whim. The overall mood is celebratory and life-affirming—and patriotic: the music evokes and pays homage to a proud and ancient country without resorting to anything rhetorical or pompous.

Rustic Suite 1 comes from 1950. Its five short movements lasting 15 minutes are extrovert and picturesque, calling forth scenes that range from somnolent countryside to village festivals to moonlit mountains, all of them tinted with regional accents.

Álvaro Cassuto has done much to bring the music of his homeland to wide notice and conducts with skill and sensitivity. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, July 2012

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 20th 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.

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.

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…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…The release under review clearly confirms that conductor and orchestra are obviously on the same wavelength.

…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. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, June 2012

One of Portugal’s most prolific composers, Fernando was the Bela Bartok (1881–1945) of his country when it came to folk music. That’s particularly true of the initial selection on this disc, Suite Rústica No. 1 (Rustic Suite No. 1) of 1950, which is the first of three, the other two being for string quartet and wind ensemble respectively. Based on unidentified folk songs from different areas of the country and brilliantly scored, it’s in six sections and opens with an attractive cantilena [track-1, 00:13]. This has a melodic contour which one senses in each of the next five numbers, giving the work a “theme and variations” feeling.

The second section is a spirited brass-percussion-accented dance. The suite then ends with a sobbing lamentation, and a final rhythmically explosive fiesta number worthy of Ginastera…

The December Poem…is a symphonic expressionist meditation devoid of any obvious folk influences. An emotionally captivating work, it opens mournfully and builds to a psychotic climax, only to fade away much as it began.

The mood brightens with Festival March…Snare drum rolls and brass fanfares introduce an arresting squeezebox motif…

The program closes with Lopes-Graça’s only symphony of 1944. The opening allegro rapsodico…kicks off with a jolly scherzo-like idea (JS)…having a Stravinskyesque rhythmical persistence. JS is cleverly manipulated, and then a reverent folkish countermelody…appears. This is at first based on a reverent folkish countermelody, then references to JS are finally heard ending the movement optimistically.

…[robust ostinato motif] is repeated continually by different instrumental groups, and the lifeblood for an astonishing variety of colorful, tempo-oriented variations.

Conductor Cassuto and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra approach this music with an enthusiasm and attention to instrumental detail which bring out the best in these solidly crafted colorful scores. That’s particularly true of the symphony’s last movement, whose rhythmic and dynamic intricacies pose a challenge to any conductor.

…the recordings present a wide, deep soundstage in an attractively reverberant acoustic…the Naxos engineers get top marks for keeping all those solo instrumental groups popping up in the final passacaglia beautifully focused and highlighted against the rest of the orchestra. © 2012 Classical Lost and Found Read complete review

Chris Hathaway
Classical 91.7 KUHA, June 2012

The Suite Rústica No. 1 of 1950, fresh and exuberant and in six brief movements which might be described as character pieces, is the most “nationalistic” item on Cassuto’s survey of his former teacher’s oeuvre. He weaves folk material…into transparent textures, using the large orchestra as a collection of many groups rather than all at once. The six miniatures form a chain with succeeding movements flowing unobtrusively into each other, and the entire suite is marked by a practiced command of form and orchestration.

The Symphony of 1944, the earliest work on the disc, is also the most “cosmopolitan” of Lopes-Graça’s works presented here. His “relief” passages for winds alone are striking, as much as his contrast of brass and strings. The fugato is not the final flourish before the end: there is effective use of contrasting colors using lighter textures and what this reviewer seems to sense is a Lopes-Graça personal trademark: the use of highly accessible melody that lives in a harmonic-contrapuntal edifice…

It must be emphasized that Lopes-Graça’s brand of “dissonance” is not abrasive but enticing, and he has a sense of voice-leading that marks almost any good composer…

The finale of Lopes-Graça’s Symphony is a Passacaglia…in duple meter, using an almost martial theme. There is enormous variety of texture, mood and color in this piece; and, as always, the orchestral style is contrapuntal.

Cassuto, working in partnership with a proven virtuoso orchestra that has over the years more than acquitted itself in a variety of styles under a variety of conductors, leads with a disciple’s fervor and effectively takes up his mentor’s sense of balance and form. He imparts this sense with a noble eloquence, and that is what makes this disc especially worthwhile. © 2012 Classical 91.7 KUHA Read complete review

Steven Ritter, May 2012

Perhaps the most appealing single movement is its [symphony’s] central Intermezzo, while the final Passacaglia…contains some very striking individual episodes when it takes the time to be a bit more expansive. Composed in 1944, this is a very interesting if nonetheless inconsistent work, and it’s well worth your attention.

Conductor Álvaro Cassuto has chosen…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. © 2012 Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2012

The disc catalogue contains precious little from Fernando Lopes-Graça, one of Portugal’s most prolific 20th century composers. He was born in 1908 and was later to embrace political affiliations towards communism, contrary to those who were in power. While he had a successful career as a pianist, conductor and teacher, this did not enamour him to the musical establishment. Maybe, now that time has passed since his death in 1993, we can take an objective view as to his output, and this disc, which covers orchestral works from 1944 to 1961, is an ideal starting point. The earliest is the Symphony, a quite extended three movement work, and here we find the Portuguese folk influences that were to colour almost everything he wrote. It is a score whose light and transparent scoring is totally different to anything else coming from this era. Never deserting tonality, the central movement is an Intermezzo leading to a theme and variations in the form of a passacaglia, and if that sounds very academic, let me assure you it is unusual and highly interesting music. Four years later came the Suite Rustica, its six movements based on Portuguese songs, and concluding in buoyant mood. The Festival March, a suitably jubilant score; contains some melodies you may find familiar, and it would certainly require very energetic marchers. Seven years after, in 1961, comes the highly contrasting December Poem, an extended, sombre and often sad piece. The Royal Scottish National play with utter conviction for the conductor, Álvaro Cassuto, who was a composition pupil of Lopes-Graça in the 1950’s, his presence bringing a benchmark status to the performances. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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