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Probing Lopes-Graça from Borralhinho and Naxos

David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

Composer Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906-94) has been described as sort of a Portuguese Bartók, and with good reason. His music in strongly folk-influenced, but never merely “folksy.” He managed to reflect these nationalist origins in an uncompromisingly modernist style, including atonal expressionist elements (think Ginastera), while still giving listeners more than enough to make the effort worthwhile. This is very evident in considering the program at hand–ostensibly “light” music that still has plenty of meat on its bones.

The Divertimento (1957), scored mostly for winds, is a spiky, harmonically acerbic work in seven brief movements whose humor and verve go hand in hand with a harmonic density that makes the work sound more expensive than it really is. The Sinfonietta “Homage to Haydn” evokes its nominal inspiration without ever resorting to mere imitation–except for one movement of literal quotation that’s all the more shocking (and funny) in its context. I won’t give away the joke, but it’s delicious. Cinco Velhos Romances Portugueses offers sensitive instrumental settings of traditional songs passed down through the centuries among Portuguese women. The Four Inventions for Solo Cello (1961) allegedly belong to the composers atonal expressionist style, but they are quite easy to follow, intensely lyrical, and consistently ear-catching–and I’m not usually a fan of music for solo strings.

In the first three works conductor/cellist Bruno Borralhinho gets fresh and lively playing from the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra, making an excellent case for the composer and these particular works. He also plays a mean cello in the Four Inventions, and Naxos provides the necessary clean and clear engineering. This is good stuff.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

    Divertimento; Sinfonietta "Homage to Haydn:' Five Ancient Portuguese Romances; Four Inventions

    Portuguese Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Borralhinho (conductor and cello solo)

  • Record Label: Naxos - 8.574373
  • Medium: CD

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