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Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them)
Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them)
by Bart D. Ehrman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ehrman: Jesus Interrupted, 19 Mar 2012
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Bart Ehrman's "Jesus Interrupted" will be "old-hat" to Bible scholars, but for its intended audience, the general church-going public, may well be, as the Boston Globe reviewer suggests, "... a grenade tossed into their tidy living rooms of religious faith". Ehrman's aim is to demonstrate to such people that the Bible, far from being a single, inspired work of Scripture that is wholly self-consistent, is in fact a conpendium of diffreent theologies which often conflict with one another, creating obvious inconsistencies and contradictions. No-one is better placed than Ehrman to undertake this task, for he begins by describing his own painful journey from his initial position as a dyed-in-the-wool literalist to his current liberal stance in which he takes the Bible to be largely metaphorical.

It is impossible to summarise the book adequately in such a short review. Let me simply pick on a few salient points. In Chapter 1 he outlines and champions the "historical-critical" method of studying the Bible. Rather than taking the Bible as the literal Word of God which must be taken literally, we should examine in detail how it was put together, the purposes of the many different authors, their intentions for their particular communities, their sometimes contradictory theologies, and so on. Ehrman laments the fact that although all the mainstream denominations require their clergy to be exposed to the historical-critical method in their initial studies prior to ordination, most of them fail to pass on what they have learned, and are content to keep their congregations in blissful ignorance.

In Chapter 2 Ehrman begins to apply the historical-critical method, turning first to the matter of contradictions, which fundamentalist Christians deny exist. When we look carefully, the existence of such contradictions is glaringly obvious. For example, in Matthew's Gospel (26:32; 28:7,10) Jesus insists on the disciples meeting him in Galilee after the resurrection, whereas in Luke 24:49 he commands them to stay put in Jerusalem until he has ascended and they have received the Holy Spirit. There are literally scores of other contradictions in the gospels alone.

In Chapter 3, Ehrman shows how the different New Testament writers, using a common stock of pre-gospel traditions, often take radically different theological stances, and see Jesus in different ways. We therefore need to study each book of the Bible in its own right in order to determine what each particular author was trying to convey to his particular community. When we simply pluck verses from the air willy-nilly, we simply sow the seeds of confusion.

Chapter 4, "Who Wrote the Bible?" challenges the assumption that all the books were written by those to whom they are ascribed, while Chapter 5 demonstrates the virtual impossibility of arriving at the real heart of the historical Jesus. All we can know about him is what his first disciples tell us, and that inevitably distorts the picture. Chapter 6 provides us with a potted history of how the 27 books of the New Testament came to be selected for the "canon" and pronounced scriptural. The story is one of centuries of development; there was no such thing as "the Bible" until the sixth century A.D., and even then, transmission depended on several centuries more scribal copying prior to the invention of printing, with all the scope for error which that afforded.

As I noted above, this book is not aimed at Bible scholars and teachers who know (or should know) all this already, but at a largely evangelical church-going public. My main concern, as with all books of this kind, is whether the intended audience will ever pick it up, let alone read it. Most evangelicals are complacently content to live out their faith without ever wishing to turn to critical questions of this kind, and my fear is that Ehrman will be a voice crying in the wilderness. Still, if there are any evangelicals out there reading this review - please! - pick up Ehrman's book and give it a go. It may change your entire attitude to the Bible.

Lionel Sainsbury - Cello Concerto (1999) & John Foulds - Cello Concerto (1908-09)
Lionel Sainsbury - Cello Concerto (1999) & John Foulds - Cello Concerto (1908-09)
Offered by Vocalion/Dutton Epoch Direct (Crazygreen8)
Price: £10.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sainsbury and Foulds Cello Concertos, 18 Mar 2012
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This Dutton CD contains a pair of full-blooded romantic cello concertos from opposite ends of the twentieth century which explore the melodic, singing qualities of the instrument to the full. The first offering is by Lionel Sainsbury (b.1958), an unashamedly tonal composer whose works deserve to be better-known, despite the fact that they could be considered restatements of a romantic idiom more in vogue at the turn of the last century. For listeners drawn to music with an immediate melodic appeal, however, Sainsbury will be right up their street. The first movement is a vigorous "allegro assai" in which the singing voice of the cello is evident from the outset. The lively opening yields eventually to a slower, more reflective moment, but on the whole the fairly brisk tempo is maintained.

The adagio is always tuneful and never morbid, despite its predominant lamenting mood. Here the composer wears his heart on his sleeve. Soloist and orchestra share the dialogue more or less equally, both contributing to the deep feeling expressed in the music, the romantic intensity of which is reminiscent of the Barber concerto at times. The final bars grow darker and more sombre before the fade-out. The third movement, by contrast, is an energetic allegro with a splendid breezy melody announced in the orchestra before being taken up and developed by the solo instrument. Soon, a jig-like theme is introduced by the cello, dancing along to a muted orchestral accompaniment. Following further development, the concerto ends in high spirits and bravura passagework for the soloist.

John Foulds' Cello Concerto (1908-09) is a comparatively early work, written when the composer was 28 years old. As such it has all the hallmarks of the late romantic tradition, and is somewhat different from the mature Foulds as heard, for example, in the Three Mantras. There are echoes of Elgar here and there, although it is as well to remember that Elgar's own cello concerto was still a decade into the future at this point. Whatever Foulds lacks in originality is more than recompensed in sound orchestral technique and glorious melody.

The tuneful nature of the piece is evident from the outset as the orchestra bursts into an exalted and melodious introduction before the solo instrument enters pizzicato, eventually working up to a statement of the opening theme. The short slow movement is in ternary form, with the slow music enveloping a brisker middle section. The initial cello theme in this movement is particularly memorable.

The spirited finale is in sonata-rondo form, and puts the soloist through his technical paces, including allowing for improvisation in the cadenza. Malcolm MacDonald has made the point that Foulds' models in this movement are Brahms, Bruch and Tchaikovsky. The springy rondo theme announced by the soloist sets the tone, and despite some more ruminative moments, the good-humoured nature of the music rarely flags, right up to muscular coda.

The soloist on this recording is the evergreen Raphael Wallfisch, who is beautifully supported throughout by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Sainsbury) and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Foulds), under Martin Yates, a conductor who by now can surely lay claim to be the chief successor to Vernon Handley in the recording studio as far as neglected British repertoire is concerned.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 8, 2012 6:05 PM BST

Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphony No.5 (New Edition) & Christopher Wright - Violin Concerto
Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphony No.5 (New Edition) & Christopher Wright - Violin Concerto
Offered by Vocalion/Dutton Epoch Direct (Crazygreen8)
Price: £10.99

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars RVW: Symphony No.5 (New edn.); Wright: Violin Concerto, 18 Mar 2012
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This Dutton CD takes the form of a traditional concert programme: overture, concerto, symphony. The first two pieces are by the contemporary composer Christopher Wright (b.1954) who writes in a refreshingly tonal and lyrical vein. "Momentum" (2008), as the name implies, is a short, high-spirited piece with plenty of fast music, and one or two more reflective episodes by contrast, just the thing as a "starter". The serious business begins with the Violin Concerto, "And then there was silence..." (2010), written in memory of Wright's wife, who had recently died, and had herself been a violinist. The pattern of the three movements, like that of the Moeran concerto, is slow-fast-slow. The central movement recalls happier times, but is a fairly brief interlude bringing some light relief from the lamenting character of the remainder. The first movement hints at despair, and contains some anguished writing in places, particularly for the orchestra. The violin, meanwhile, has the leading role, and is given some beautiful, sinuous passages, as well as some reflective moments.

Unusually for an instrumental concerto, the finale focuses on a verse from Christina Rossetti's poem "Echo", sung by a tenor soloist (Christopher Watson on this CD), the words of which hold the key not only to this movement but to the entire work. The voice of the composer's late wife sings on in the violin solo, while his instructions for the movement ("lento e lacrimoso", for example) set the intended mood, the anguish and despair of the opening movement giving way, finally, to resignation.

This is a beautiful, lyrical concerto which it is difficult to divorce from its raison d'etre, once it is known. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, under the baton of Martin Yates, does full justice to the piece.

The remaining work on the disc is Vaughan Williams' Symphony No.5. Although this has been recorded many times over the years, this one lays claim to being the first recording of the symphony's "new edition". However, listeners expecting a repeat of the Chandos recording of the original version of the London Symphony, with its extra twenty minutes of music, will be disappointed, as the changes made in the new edition of the Fifth Symphony are purely technical in nature, an alteration to the precise timing of a timpani entry in the slow movement (Romanza) being the most radical. However, the symphony is played with admirable feeling by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, again under Yates, and is certainly up to the standard of alternative interpretations.

Dove: The Passing Of The Year (Naxos: 8572733)
Dove: The Passing Of The Year (Naxos: 8572733)
Offered by Naxos Direct UK
Price: £4.73

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jonathan Dove Choral Music, 14 Mar 2012
Jonathan Dove (b.1959) is one of Britain's leading exponents of choral composition, and this new Naxos CD shows why. His use of choral techniques seems infinitely inventive, and so the listener's interest never flags for a moment - something fresh is always happening. This is modern music which carries an immediate emotive impact, tonal and lyrical without leaning too heavily on past tradition. At no point does it become dryly academic as some modern music can be.

The most substantial piece on this recording is "The Passing of the Year", a song-cycle for double chorus and piano, written in memory of Dove's mother. The texts are drawn from Blake, Peele, Nashe and Tennyson, and evoke the progress of the seasons from the awakening of spring ("O Earth, return") to the onset of the New Year ("Ring out, wild bells"). Dove's treatment of the chorus is truly awe-inspiring, and there is a distinctive mood for each season. The heart of the piece, for me, is "Adieu, farewell earth's bliss" (Nashe) with its fretful refrain, "Lord, have mercy on us" acting as a choral ostinato which underpins the melodic line of the remainder (one of Dove's fingerprints). There is a solemn dignity about this song which grips one by the throat. The final song, "Ring out, wild bells" (Tennyson), restores some cheer with its choral affirmation, while the piano rings the changes.

I can't do full justice here to all the other pieces on the disc, so must confine myself to a few personal highlights. "My love is mine" taken from the biblical Song of Songs, is scored for unaccompanied alto solo, and is all the more striking for the inviolability of the single voice. "Who killed Cock Robin?" is a setting of the well-known traditional rhyme (here in its full version) which Dove, far from writing down to its seemingly innocuous words, transforms into a heart-rending requiem, very much as Vaughan Williams does with Skelton's "Jane Scroop: Her Lament for Philip Sparrow" in his Five Tudor Portraits. The effects that Dove manages to extract from the unaccompanied chorus are other-worldly, particularly towards the close. The whole piece, in fact, is a tour-de-force for the performers.

"It sounded as if the streets were running" is a set of three songs to texts by Emily Dickinson. The movement suggested in the title poem is fully accommodated in the running rhythms and overlapping textures of its setting, a mood which is resumed in the final song, "How happy is the little stone", which makes the icy remoteness of the intervening "I saw no way" all the more telling by contrast.

The fairly recently-formed "Convivium Singers" who perform on this recording are certainly convivial! Even the most complex of the music - and there is plenty of that - is tackled with aplomb and assurance. Apart from the odd religious choral piece, I had heard little of Jonathan Dove prior to the present CD. The offerings here have made me an instant convert to his music. Highly recommended.

Martin Shaw: Songs - The Airmen
Martin Shaw: Songs - The Airmen
Price: £11.71

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Martin Shaw Songs, 22 Feb 2012
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Martin Shaw (1875-1958), if he is remembered at all, is better known as an editor and arranger rather than as a composer of original music. Early on in his career he met Gordon Craig, son of the actress Ellen Terry, and worked with him on a series of projects in the field of theatre and dance. In 1900 they mounted the first commercial production of Purcell's opera "Dido and Aeneas" since the composer's death in 1695. The respect that Shaw earned from his fellow musicians is evident from the friendships he struck up with, among others, Vaughan Williams and John Ireland, and in 1948 he became the first composer to be commissioned by Benjamin Britten to write a piece for his Aldeburgh Festival - no mean achievement. It was through RVW that Shaw was introduced to the Rev. Percy Dearmer with whom, in 1925, he co-edited the new edition of Songs of Praise, and then in 1928 the Oxford Book of Carols. With popular hymn tunes, including "Hills of the North Rejoice" and "Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow" to his credit, it is probably true to say that millions of people down the years have been in touch with Shaw's work without knowing it.

What was he like as a composer? Well, if the 36 songs on this disc are anything to go by, a very fine one. What is immediately striking about these works is their melodic freshness and directness of approach. The tunes are instantly accessible and the accompaniment is unfussy without ever lacking in interest. His chosen texts are diverse in scope and the settings embrace a wide range of moods, from melancholy to ebullient high spirits, with everything in between. A third of the songs recorded here are to texts by Shakespeare, Kipling and Rossetti. Among the remainder are a host of "unknowns" (often gleaned from The Times), including minor war poets, some of whose verse is really quite slight, and one wonders whether Shaw really did himself a service in setting it. Yet, on occasion, it is the "unknowns" who bring out the best in him. For example, the first song, "Venizel", to a text by a Capt. W.A. Short (d.1917), was considered by John Ireland to be Shaw's best song up to that time. Of the Shakespeare settings, there is a wonderfully atmospheric "Full Fathom Five", with some marvellous invention in the accompaniment, and a "Come Away, Death" which stands up pretty well to the more celebrated settings by Finzi and Quilter.

I acquired this CD initially out of curiosity, having heard of Martin Shaw the musician, but nothing of his music. I have no hesitation, now, in recommending it to all lovers of English song, in which tradition it sits very comfortably. The performers - Sophie Bevan (sop.), Andrew Kennedy (ten.), Roderick Williams (bar.), and Iain Burnside (piano) are first class, and do Shaw's music full justice.

Arthur Benjamin - Violin Concerto, Romantic Fantasy & Elegy, Waltz and Toccata
Arthur Benjamin - Violin Concerto, Romantic Fantasy & Elegy, Waltz and Toccata
Offered by Vocalion/Dutton Epoch Direct (Crazygreen8)
Price: £10.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Benjamin Violin Concerto, etc., 16 Jan 2012
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Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960) was an Australian composer who came to Britain to study at the RCM during its heyday under Parry and Stanford, and then decided to stay on. He is perhaps best known today for his popular light music such as Jamaican Rumba, but he was also a composer of serious music, including an impressive Symphony, and the Violin Concerto recorded here.

The Violin Concerto, written in 1931, is in the usual three-movement form. The first, Rhapsody, is full of musical invention and bravura passages for the soloist, beginning with a robust passage for soloist against a stamping, Stravinsky-like rhythm in the orchestra. The music then becomes more lyrical as the violin sings melodically, and perhaps slightly reminiscent of the Walton Viola Concerto which had appeared a couple of years earlier. The music builds in drive and force, at which point it can hardly be described as rhapsodic at all, but then subsides to a subdued ending.

In the second movement (Intermezzo) the lilting qualities of the solo instrument are much in evidence, while in the Rondo finale the tempo picks up to produce a brisk movement with plenty of rhythmic complexity - a kind of tour de force for the soloist.

The Romantic Fantasy for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, dedicated to Arnold Bax and quoting from the older composer's "In the Faery Hills", was completed in 1936. The opening Baxian four-note horn call, in fact, serves as a leitmotif throughout. The relatively leisurely pace of the opening Nocturne gives way to a much more lively second movement, marked Scherzino, although there is a more graceful dance-like middle section. The extensive third movement, labelled Sonata-Finale, combines elements of both the preceding Nocturne and Scherzino, including the all-important leitmotif which gives the work such a strong sense of unity. The end comes with a spectral shimmer.

The Elegy, Waltz and Toccata (1943) is in effect a Viola Concerto - actually an orchestration of the Viola Sonata of the previous year. No doubt world events of the time ensured that this would be a fairly sombre piece, and the viola, with its naturally dark tones, was just the instrument to carry the mood. There is an undoubted brooding quality about the Elegy, while the Waltz, with its disturbing changes of tempo and acerbic harmonies, is a world away from the genteel Viennese fayre of the nineteenth century. This Waltz is a troubled, restless affair. The brief Toccata finale gives the violist every opportunity to display her technical brilliance, although the orchestra, too, is required to perform with considerable dexterity. The work concludes with an audience-pleasing flourish.

The soloists Lorraine McAslan (violin) and Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) make a splendid case for Benjamin's music, while the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by John Gibbons, provides full-bodied support.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 20, 2013 2:00 PM GMT

Moeran: Rhapsodies Nos.1 & 2; In the Mountain Country; etc.
Moeran: Rhapsodies Nos.1 & 2; In the Mountain Country; etc.
Price: £7.60

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moeran Orchestral Music, 16 Jan 2012
As is well-known ,much of Moeran's music was inspired by the landscape and folksongs of Norfolk and Ireland, and most of the works recorded here are no exception to the rule.

"In the Mountain Country" is a short orchestral rhapsody (or "impression") written in 1921. The mountains in question are those in the south-west of Ireland (they are rather hard to come by in Norfolk!), and the music is in ternary form, with two slow outer sections flanking a quicker middle one. There are folk-like inflections throughout, but no actual folksong is quoted.

Moeran followed this work in 1922 with the Rhapsody No.1, a piece of similar ilk. After a calm introduction, the music becomes much more animated, full of drive and rhythm. Vernon Handley, the conductor on this recording, once suggested that no-one coming fresh to this piece would guess it was by Moeran, whose style is reputedly pastoral in nature, but the Moeran fingerprints are unmistakable, as anyone who has heard the G-minor Symphony must agree. In fact, in many ways, this rhapsody seems to presage that work.

In the Rhapsody No.2 (1924), a quiet opening on clarinet gains momentum before the heart of the piece, a beautiful, broad melody of Irish descent, intervenes. The earlier, sprightly mood is resumed, based on the opening material, and the work ends briskly, amidst percussion, with two staccato tutti chords.

The chromatic harmonies of Delius inform Moeran's Nocturne of 1934. At this point, Delius had just died, and his widow Jelka asked Moeran to dedicate the piece to him. Written for baritone (here, Hugh Mackey), small chorus and orchestra, it is a setting of part of a poem by Robert Nichols (1893-1944). The noctural mood is established from the outset by a muted orchestral passage and the use of a wordless chorus reminiscent of Vaughan Williams' Flos Campi. There are impassioned moments, but overall the gentle, restrained mood is maintained throughout, and the tempo changes, such as they are, are subtle rather than sudden.

The Serenade in G is Moeran's last substantial orchestral work (1948), although it has its origins in the Farrago Suite of 1932. In its final form, it consists of eight short movements, including a sprightly Prologue and an Epilogue which brings the work full circle. The emotional heart of the piece - for me, at least - it its gentle Air, but there is plenty in the other movements offering contrasts of mood, not least the headlong Galop. The folksy Minuet with its lovely oboe melody reverts to quieter mode, while the jaunty Rigadoon paves the way for the finale.

On this disc, Moeran aficionado Vernon Handley takes the Ulster Orchestra through its paces, while Mackey and the Renaissance Singers are persuasive exponents in the Nocturne. The recording quality is up to Chandos's usual high standard.

Brian: Orchestral Music Vol. 2
Brian: Orchestral Music Vol. 2
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £12.74

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brian Orchestral Music Volume 2, 21 Dec 2011
Although Havergal Brian is best known for his 32 symphonies, particularly for the giant Gothic Symphony, he also composed five substantial operas. Although none of these has ever been staged (neglect was something about which the composer was remarkably philosophical), Brian did have the foresight to arrange some of the best music into orchestral suites in order to facilitate performance, and it is these on which this promised second Toccata volume of Brian's orchestral music focuses.

As with the symphonies, most of Brian's operatic music is a product of his old age. The exception is The Tigers, composed in 1917-19, but not orchestrated until 1927-29, when Brian was still a comparatively "youthful" 53 years of age. The opera is represented on this CD by the Symphonic Variations "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" Brian displays an astonishing range of invention in his variation technique so that, within a piece lasting little more than 12 minutes, there is never a dull moment as the tune emerges from and disappears into the overall texture.

Brian's second opera, written in 1949-51 when the composer was nudging eighty, was Turandot, based on Schuller's German translation of a text by the Italian dramatist Gozzi (we need to keep reminding ourselves that Brian was born into a working class family in the Potteries, and left school at the age of 14). The "Three Pieces" here were extracted from the opera by Brian himself in 1962-63. The first begins as a delicate andante, the general tenor of which is interrupted by some more robust moments, notably in the brass. This is followed by an allegro molto movement in which the large orchestra is broken up into various instrumental groupings, and given over largely to orchestral colour. The final piece is a brief allegro vivo beginning with a short fanfare before gradually growing in dynamics and accelerating in tempo. A descending figure draws the work to an abrupt close.

From Brian's opera Faust (1955-56), in which he uses a reduced version of Goethe's German text, comes "Night Ride of Faust and Mephistopheles", in effect an orchestral scherzo which makes us feel that we have strayed into one of Brian's later symphonies.

The "Predludio tragico" is drawn from Brian's opera The Cenci (1951-52). At over thirteen minutes duration this is a substantial piece in its own right and, once again, could easily pass as a symphony of the kind that Brian was composing at the time (Symphonies 10 and 11 in particular). The libretto of the opera itself is Shelley's poem of the same name, which brings to mind Brian's gargantuan setting of another Shelley text, Prometheus Unbound, of some years earlier.

"A Turandot Suite" draws further music from the Turandot opera, but here the music has been arranged by Brian scholar Malcolm MacDonald who we also have to thank for the splendidly detailed liner notes. Whereas the Three Pieces are taken from Act 1, this selection is drawn from Acts 2 & 3. The music is full of the composer's fingerprints, including brass fanfares, spare scoring interrupted by sudden tutti outbursts, and characteristic use of orchestral colour.

As in the case of Volume 1, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Garry Walker, does full justice to Brian's colourful and often complex music.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 29, 2011 9:27 AM GMT

David Matthews: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 6
David Matthews: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 6
Price: £15.37

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Matthews Symphonies Nos. 2 & 6, 7 Dec 2011
The twentieth century is justifiably regarded as the golden age of the British symphony. Elgar, even with only two completed symphonies to his name, was reckoned to be the pioneer (his predecessors, Parry and Stanford, both wrote in a European tongue), while Vaughan Williams, Bax, Rubbra, Arnold, Alwyn, Lloyd, Brian, Simpson, and others, all made the symphony the backbone of their output. David Matthews, having now reached No.7, has folllowed this venerable tradition. All but this most recent symphony have been recorded, and here on this Dutton disc, we have two contrasting symphonies from different periods in the composer's career.

Symphony No.2 is a comparatively early work (1976-79). It begins quietly with a bassoon figure on a bed of soft strings, a mood which is maintained for some time and refuses to be subdued by agitated interjections from the woodwind. Eventually, however, the music becomes more ominous with threatening crescendos from the lower strings, brass and percussion, which represents, according to the composer, the start of a journey from innocence to experience. The slow, grave tempo is maintained throughout until the "allegro energico" second section weighs in, although even here the strings tend to flow rather than rush along. Discordant interjections in the brass add a note of unease not present in the first section. From this point the music increases in tempo and dynamism as "experience" takes hold. The third section makes much use of pitched percussion, while the final one brings all the orchestral forces to bear, returning at last to the opening theme which is now, however, cast in a very different mood from that in which it began.

Symphony No.6 (2003-07) began life as a short variation on Vaughan Williams' hymn tune "Down Ampney" ("Come down, O love divine"). This original variation, though somewhat revised, is embedded in the symphony as the short scherzo second movement, surrounded by two much more substantial movements. The idea of basing a full-scale symphony or extended symphonic work on a traditional or well-known melody is not new (we may compare, for instance, Patrick Hadley's "The Trees So High" - a symphony in all but name - based on a Somerset folk tune). The challenge, of course, is to subject the original melody to as varied a treatment as possible, and here Matthews pulls out all the stops. Even mere phrases are transformed, and in the final movement, a set of variations, the tune is inverted altogether. Don't expect to recognise the familiar RVW melody from the outset; this only appears in full at the end, although snatches of it are recognisable here and there. As the composer admits, however, despite initial reservations on his part, it seemed inevitable that the symphony should end with a full rendering of the complete melody (another parallel with Hadley). All that remains after this is a quiet, contemplative close.

Matthews' self-confessed indebtedness to the British symphonic tradition (Vaughan Williams and Tippett in particular), as well as to Mahler, is assimilated into this symphony without compromising the composer's own style.

The BBC National Symphony Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Jac van Steen, turns in a fine performance of both works.

Braga Santos: Alfama (Symphonic Overture No. 3/ Elegy) (NAXOS 8572815)
Braga Santos: Alfama (Symphonic Overture No. 3/ Elegy) (NAXOS 8572815)
Price: £6.00

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Braga Santos Orchestral Music, 7 Dec 2011
The leading Portugese composer, Joly Braga Santos (1924-88) has been quite well represented on disc. His six symphonies were recorded by Marco Polo and reissued by Naxos, and here on the present CD we have a selection of his shorter orchestral works. Braga Santos's career falls broadly into two distinct periods divided by a period of study abroad under Virgilio Martari at the end of the 1950s, after which his style became more "modernist". The works recorded here cover his compositional career, thus offering the listener an opportunity to compare these styles.

In his earlier period, Braga Santos wrote in an attractive tonal idiom, informed by modalism and Portugese folksong, a tendency well reflected in the first three pieces here. The Symphonic Overture No.3 (1954), after a lovely, slow introduction,is predominantly bright and breezy, full of light and rhythm. The modal inflections give the music a rather English feel at times.

Elegy in Memory of Vianna da Motta (1948) is a more meditative work, written in memory of a well-known Portugese pianist. After a couple of strong pizzicato chords, the intense opening theme strikes up, predominantly in the lower strings. A stirring climax leads in to a second section dominated by a modal theme which begins in the woodwind, underpinned by a persistent rhythm in the timpani. The theme grows dynamically, leading to a final section in which the elegiac ideas of the first are re-established.

"Alfama" (1956) is a ballet suite written at the time of Braga Santos's marriage simply as a means of earning an income, and later edited for concert performance by Alvaro Cassuto, the conductor on this recording. It consists of a slow, meditative introduction followed by a series of lively dances. Although the underlying story is not given in the liner notes, this does not detract from the music which can be enjoyed simply for its intrinsic value, and requires little comment.

The Variations for Orchestra (1976) comes from Braga Santos's second creative period, thus representing a much harder-edged style; yet, if it can be described as "avant garde" at all, it is only in a soft sense, and is hardly of the style which John Tavener has dubbed "po-faced serialism", although it does represent a distinct move away from the melodic accessibility of his earlier works.

The three short Symphonic Sketches (1962) are an early exercise in the composer's recently-developed "modern" style, and consist of two strident allegros separated by an eerie lento. The discordant, nerve-jangling mood of both this and the previous work is reminiscent, at times, of the grinding serialist flirtations of Malcolm Arnold.

This disc provides an excellent introduction to the music of Braga Santos, and is ideal for anyone wanting to dip a toe into the water before deciding whether to take the plunge with recordings of the composer's more substantial symphonic output. Alvaro Cassuto is a renowned Braga Santos advocate, while the Royal Scottish National Orchestra does full justice to the programme on offer here.

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