On record – Joly Braga Santos: Chamber Music Volume Two (Toccata Classics)

Joly Braga Santos
Piano Quartet Op.28 (1957)
Suite de Danças Op.63 (1984)
Piano Trio Op.64 (1985)
Adagio e Scherzino (1956)
Suite para intrumentos de metal (1985)

Piano Quartet, Piano Trio: Jill Lawson (piano), Eliot Lawson (violin), Natalia Tchitch (viola), Catherine Strynckx (cello)
Suite of Dances: Jill Lawson (piano), Ricardo Lobes (oboe), Natalia Tchitch (viola), Adriano Aguiar (double bass)
Adagio e scherzino: Nuno Ivo Cruz (flute), Ricardo Lopes (oboe), António Saiote (clarinet), Paulo Guerreiro (horn), Carolino Carreira (bassoon)
Suite for brass: Jorge Almeida, António Quítalo, Pedro Monteiro (trumpets), Paulo Guerreiro (horn), Jarrett Butler, Vitor Faria (trombones), Ilídio Massacote (tuba)

Toccata Classics TOCC0428 [71’20”]

Producers Brian MacKay, Romain Zémiri
Engineer Romain Zémiri

Recorded 5-8 December 2017, 6-8 June 2018 at Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics issues the second instalment devoted to the chamber output of Joly Braga Santos (1924-88), one which ranges widely in terms of its instrumental media and features one of the undoubted high points from over the Portuguese composer’s extensive catalogue.

What’s the music like?

To describe three of these pieces as ‘occasional’ is not to deny their musical attraction. The Suite of Dances makes the most of its unlikely combination of oboe, viola, double bass and piano – the astringent harmonies of its Prelũdio commuted into more plaintive expression by the Sarabanda, before the Tarantella rounds off the sequence with heady insouciance. In its follow-through of wistful song then whimsical dance, the Adagio and Scherzino is an unassuming gift to the repertoire for woodwind quintet that all such ensembles should seize upon. Although a combination of horn, three trumpets, two trombones and tuba might prove awkward, the Suite for Brass is no less diverting – whether in the soulful pathos of its initial Moderato, incisive fanfares of its central Allegro or insinuating resolve of its final Andante.

Highly appealing as these all are, the remaining works more completely affirm Braga Santos as a composer of substance. Cast in a single movement lasting almost 15 minutes, the Piano Quartet unfolds as the interplay between tensile and rhapsodic main themes such that neither mode of expression ever quite gets the upper hand. Moreover, the writing for the four players is of an integrated ensemble with any solo expression secondary to that of the collective; not least in the final pages as the music regains its initial impetus on the way to a forthright close.

Undoubtedly the main achievement here, the Piano Trio can rank alongside the Third String Quartet (included on the previous volume) among Braga Santos’s finest achievements. The opening Largo elides between distanced and ominous expression, its unforced synthesis of modal and non-tonal facets accorded greater resolve by the ensuing Allegro with its tensely intertwined strings and repeated-note piano writing that, between them, reach an impetuous climax. More than twice the length of its predecessors, the closing Lento is also one of this composer’s most potent inspirations – the sheer remoteness of its initial gestures underlying the speculative discourse which follows, and while the later stages afford greater emotional variety, the destination of this music towards its ethereal final repose can never be doubted.

Does it all work?

It does, allowing for the fact that some of the pieces here are modest in scope but written most felicitously as to the ensemble required. The performances of the main two pieces –    by violinist Eliot Lawson, cellist Catherine Strynckx, pianist Jill Lawson and (in the Piano Quartet) violist Natalia Tchitch – make a strong case for these works to form part of their respective repertoire. The other items mainly feature woodwind and brass players from the leading Portuguese orchestras and bring similar combinations of insight and commitment.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The sound avoids that slightly out-of-focus perspective of the first volume, even if breaks between works could have been lengthier. The booklet has an affectionate memoir by Santos’s pupil Alexandre Delgado, with detailed notes on each work by Bernardo Mariano.



You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. For our review of volume one in this series, click here

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