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5.0 out of 5 stars
Symphony No. 4 (Cassuto, Nso of Ireland)
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VINE VOICEon 6 November 2009
When I'd finished listening to this disc it suddenly dawned on me that this was the first symphony I'd heard from the Iberian Peninsula and quite possibly the first piece of music I'd encountered from a Portuguese composer. And what a listening experience it proved to be! The sleeve notes wrong-footed me by suggesting shades of Bruckner and Sibelius were to be expected, but frankly I detected nothing Brucknerian about the symphony and Sibelius only in the sense that the long-breathed melody of the chorale that closes the symphony brings to mind the closing of the Sibelius 1st or the heroic coda of his 2nd. Another reviewer here is closer to the mark when he suggests the sound world of American symphonists such as Howard Hanson (and I would also add Roy Harris and Walter Piston.) There's certainly nothing particularly "Latin" about this symphony in terms of its colouring and thematic material. Actually, what it reminded me of more than anything else is the symphonic film music of the last 40 years. That isn't meant to be a put down. The symphony is brilliantly orchestrated, even rather flamboyant, but the musical idiom is instantly accessible. The same goes for the Symphonic Variations which precede the symphony. You'll be hooked on the first listening.

A word of praise for the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. Under Braga Santos' fellow countryman Alvaro Cassuto they play these works with the kind of heft and precision you'd associate with some of heavy gunners like the Berlin Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw or the London Symphony. And the recording is pretty much demonstration class. Five stars all round.
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on 13 February 2011
There's not much I can add to the other excellent reviews. The Fourth Symphony is glorious and, like Bob Ziedler, I've listened to it may times since buying. the same is true of th eeven more colourful Variations that bare a strong similarity to the Symphony's sunlit and the smell of sea air scherzo.

It's worth remembering that Braga Santos was a near contemporary of Stockhausen and Boulez but you'd never guess unless you try his later more avant garde but still very rewarding work.

A previous recording of the Fourth included a chorus in the chorale like finale. That version has been roundly panned but the final chorale is such a catchy tune that it begs to be sung and maybe that was the true intention. Even so, stick with this version.

One very dissonant climax in the finale sticks out like a sore thumb - a little like the final chord of Ives' Second Symphony (at least the way Bernstein played it). The chord, in Braga Santos's case seems to carry the weight of the work's element of conflict with remarkable economy, paving the way for the final chorale.

Like everyone else I am astonished that these works aren't very popular classics, being immediately attractive but classically very rigorous. It's good that his work is appearing on disc but classical programme planners should take a risk and give these fine works the live performances they crave for.
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on 16 April 2012
This is a wonderfully joyful symphony, by a composer I had never heard of before reading a review of another CD by the same composer. He uses a lot of fast tempi and ostinati, but in general it is a very traditional "tonal" symphony in four movements, with one slow one and the outer movements marked lento and very grand in their concept. It was composed in the middle of the 20th century, and as I indicated, is not at all "modernist" or avant garde, but the composer has a gift for melody and the whole experience is quite uplifting.

There are no comparisons to be made regarding the recording or performance, but the recording is well up to Naxos standard and the performance, led by a Braga Santos specialist, is very attractive and committed.

Well worth buying at a very reasonable price. I will start to explore his work further.
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on 21 December 2013
Orchestras around the world tend to play the same music. Occasionally, new work is premiered but it is a rare event when an orchestra takes up an older and unknown piece of music, but this disc ought to persuade at least some of them to reconsider their strategy. Alvaro Cassuto and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland's recording of Braga Santos' fourth symphony is a bit of a revelation. The symphony is well-crafted, at times rythmically enticing and the orchestration is just gorgeous. What is even more important is that it is packed with good tunes. The last one, which is varied at the end of the finale, will have you humming as you leave the hall (or the stereo). Combined with a fine set of symphonic variations and great orchestral playing led by Cassuto, who clearly loves this music, this is an irresistible album.
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on 10 November 2012
I have little to add to the existing reviews, but I just want to endorse the other reviewers' glowing reviews and add another 5-star review, because this is a composer that deserves to be a lot better known and played in the concert halls. Buy the CD yourself and let yourself be swayed by these splendidly recorded, played, composed and orchestrated works.
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on 30 September 2015
Brilliant melodic lines. So enjoyable
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on 5 July 2004
A fellow classical music reviewer, in his review of Joly Braga Santos's Symphony No. 2, was so convincing in his enthusiasm for this largely-unknown 20th-century Portuguese composer that I obtained not only that CD but this one as well. Both CDs are certifiable "winners." There is little that I can add to his comments on the 2nd Symphony and its discmate (the "Crossroads" Ballet); I agree with all that he has written. But there is plenty worthy of comment for this 4th Symphony, coupled on this CD with his "Symphonic Variations."
Braga Santos (1924-1988) spent the early part of his musical career studying under a Portuguese composer of the previous generation, Luis de Freitas Branco, who would appear to have influenced all of Braga Santos's compositions through and including the 4th Symphony, all of which were written while he was still in his 20s. (The excellent booklet notes, by Álvaro Cassuto, the conductor for this Marco Polo series and clearly the principal champion of the music of Braga Santos, go on to state that Braga Santos subsequently studied with Herman Scherchen and Virgilio Motari, and that his later works reflected a more avant-garde compositional style, something that I have yet to look forward to.) Despite his Iberian roots, there is little in his music that brings to mind a characteristically Iberian style (say, that of Manuel de Falla). Instead, there is a more "international" flavor to these works, including some fairly obvious similarities with a number of better-known composers: Bax, Bruckner, Hanson, Nielsen, Ravel, Respighi, Rimsky-Korsakov, Sibelius and Vaughan Williams come to mind at various points throughout the 4th Symphony, and the Symphonic Variations have their Ravelian and Respighian touches as well.
The symphony (Braga Santos's longest, at some 53 minutes), is in four rather evenly divided movements, save for the last movement, which concludes with a stirring epilogue in the form of a chorale that largely accounts for its greater length. Each of the movements is full of good tunes, incorporated with real craftsmanship and a high regard for orchestral color. One can hear the ravishing lushness of Ravel, the motivic cells of Sibelius (even successfully combined with the Ravel touches in several places), brilliant splashes of orchestra color that readily remind one of Respighi, frequently modal writing reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, side drum tattoos that bring Nielsen to mind, and so forth. The epilogue-in-the-form-of-a-chorale that concludes the work does so on a very high note; with its use of timpani ostinato and a chorale theme that is of a definitely "Romantic yearning" bent, it reminds me in most respects of the final-movement coda to Hanson's "Romantic" Symphony, even to its brilliant modulations in the closing bars.
What is exceedingly difficult to put into words is the fact that all of this works, and works brilliantly, without seeming obvious or "pastiche-like." Each movement is a fully-developed entity having its own themes (and ear-catching tunes), with its own immediate appeal, yet the four movements fit together with perfect logic. Tis a puzzlement that this work has labored pretty much in obscurity for a half-century, for it is a "can't fail" audience-pleaser that need make no apologies.
The "Symphonic Variations" (which is the opening track on the disc) is, according to the booklet notes, based on a popular song from the Alentejo region of southern Portugal. It is a catchy tune, even a pretty one, where the "theme and variation" idea is utilized as a formal device for displaying the virtuoso and coloristic capabilities of the orchestra; a "Concerto for Orchestra" without actually being one, so to say. The work is "of a piece" with the 4th Symphony in terms of its obvious craft and its immediate - and seemingly lasting - appeal.
This last point deserves a small bit of additional commentary. Seldom, when listening to something totally new to me, do I latch on to it as I seem to have with these two Braga Santos works. My music library is literally littered with roadkill, stuff I gave a try to that in the end just didn't make an impression on me. Not so for these works; each time I listen to them (and it's been a few times already, just for purpose of putting these thoughts together), I find something new to appreciate in what Braga Santos has crafted.
Marco Polo has done us an outstanding service by committing to disc a major portion of Braga Santos's symphonic output (including all of his symphonies), under the direction of Cassuto. The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland is a fine group that does justice to both these works, and the sound is excellent.
This is truly a composer who deserves to be "rescued from obscurity," and Cassuto and Marco Polo have done themselves proud in their efforts. I hope to have the opportunity to hear a Braga Santos work performed "live" some day, now that all this "heavy lifting" by Cassuto and Marco Polo has brought his works before the listening public.
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on 27 August 2002
Music lovers who have already bought the preceeding cds in the Braga Santos symphony cycle will already be listening to the final installment in this important project. Those new to this composer will find this an excellent way to make his aquaintance. The Fourth is the last of the early symphonies and perhaps the best. It possesses melody, rythym, masterful orchestration and a wonderful chorale-like finale (thankfully without the choral additions that were tacked onto an earlier recording). While the other early symphonies are coupled with works from Braga Santos' later, dissonant period, the Symphonic Variations are very definitely of the same consonant idiom as the Symphony and are just as enjoyable. Love Vaughan-Williams, especially the 5th and 8th? Wish Walton had written more symphonies? If you love these composers then Joly Braga Santos (an admirer of both)may be just what you are looking for! Excellent sound and idiomatic performances from conductor and orchestra round out a very appealing package. Enjoy!
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