The value of Marco Polo's series of orchestral music by Joly Braga Santos can hardly be exaggerated, but the disc at hand is probably not the place to start for anyone curious about it. As is well known by now, Braga Santos's early music is tonal (modal), tuneful and relatively conservative, drawing partially on romantic models and partially on impressionism and folk music - Vaughan Williams may to a certain extent be a point of reference, but Braga Santos's early music is bolder, more muscular and less subtle. The later music, however, is more harmonically adventurous; the music from the mid sixties is often dense and heavily chromatic, but the even later music is more rhythmically vigorous and sometimes reminiscent of Bartók.
This disc does give us a useful survey of his stylistic development; the early Concerto in D (from 1951) is unabashedly tuneful and buoyant - but it is also one of the composer's less successful works in this idiom (the place to start is probably the fourth symphony). The Sinfonietta for strings from 1963 is obviously a transitory work; it is heavily dissonant but still clearly romantic at the core. It contains many fine things but overall sounds a little wayward and stylistically uncertain; it is still an enjoyable work, very well worth hearing.
The Variations Concertantes from 1967 is the most difficult work on the disc; it is harmonically very dense and opaque; it requires some work on the listener's part, but it is not entirely clear that the effort is suitably rewarded. No such complaints about the Concerto for violin, cello, strings and harp from 1968 - this is also spiky, dissonant music, but hugely enjoyable and colorful in the manner of Bartók at his most vigorous. It is probably the main attraction of the disc, and receives and utterly convincing performance. In fact, the Northern Sinfonia under Alvaro Cassuto is powerful and colorful in all the more modern works, but they sound strangely reticent and heavy-handed in the early Concerto. Still, this is overall a very fine release, and it is generally well (but brightly) recorded; eminently worth your time, then, but again - if you are unfamiliar with the composer the fourth symphony is the place to start.