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aBritish Symphonies
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W.S. Bennett, Rootham, Moeran,
Bax, Rubbra, Rawsthorne, Berkeley
Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert


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Van Dieren Chinese Symphony
Searle Symphonies 3, 5
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Frederico de FREITAS (1902-1980)
The Silly Girl’s Dance (1941) [22:18]
The Wall of Love (1940) [13:41]
Medieval Suite (1958) [25:49]
Ribatejo (1938) [8:27]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Álvaro Cassuto
rec. 16-17 August 2012, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
NAXOS 8.573095 [70:15] 

Frederico de Freitas was a witty, colorful composer of programmatic music with titles that translate weirdly into English. The Silly Girl’s Dance is a twenty-two minute ballet about a bashful girl, the village outcast, who does a very peculiar dance which reveals herself to, in fact, be the prettiest girl of them all. I’m not sure how exactly this works, but it’s an ugly duckling story made good in music with truly clever music: off-balance orchestration, wacky harmonies, topsy-turvy dance segments that crash into each other. There’s an evocation of the villagers’ laughter on a par with the laughing scene in Daphnis et Chloé. Towards the end, as her beauty is revealed, we get more sweeping, romantic episodes that still retain the ballet’s exuberant bounce.
 
The Wall of Love is another picture-postcard with a delightfully splashy score. There’s more overtly Iberian character here, with the fair represented by a folksy trumpet tune that sounds straight out of the ballets of de Falla. There’s a hokey plot: all the marriageable girls by the fair loiter around the churchyard wall, waiting for boys to chat them up; one is left behind before the very last boy walks up and they fall in love.
 
Next up we have a Medieval Suite which I don’t mind telling you sounds not at all medieval. It’s fun, there’s no doubt about that, especially the slow song movements and the dancing finale, but if Freitas intended to evoke medieval musical sounds, he missed the mark by a long way. The final piece on the program, Ribatejo, is an exuberant dance with major solos for almost every instrument as well as grand gestures, ripe tunes, and splashily orchestrated climaxes. It closes out 70 minutes of pure fun.
 
The sound level can and should be turned up a little higher than normal, but it is very good and very clear. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra really brings off the luxuriousness and sheer joy of the scores, under Álvaro Cassuto. He knows them better than anybody in the world and writes the booklet notes. Only once, in the middle section of Ribatejo, did I hear the brass sounding timid and insecure in their playing. Many soloists deliver with great panache, though. I can’t blame them. This music must be as much fun to play as it is to hear, which is a lot.
 
Brian Reinhart