Fernando Lopes-Graça is undoubtedly the most important Portuguese
composer of his generation. His importance rests not only on his composing
career but also on his many other activities including teaching amateurs and
collecting folk-songs. The latter activity was to play a considerable part
in his music-making for Lopes-Graça's music is often imbued with the
spirit, if not the letter of Portuguese folk-songs. In this respect it might
be compared to Bartók's so-called imaginary folklore although in a
less radical way than in some of Bartók's mature works.
The influence of folk music is fairly clearly heard in the First
Piano Concerto completed in 1940 and dedicated to José Vianna da
Motta with whom Lopes-Graça studied in Lisbon. His other teacher then
was Luis de Freitas Branco. Later Lopes-Graça travelled to Paris and
studied a while with Charles Koechlin. The outer movements of this fairly
substantial work are clearly Iberian in tone with echoes of de Falla in the
first movement, for example. At times there’s some added dissonance
inherited from Milhaud, but the composer's voice is personal enough to
obliterate such passing influences. The real gem of the piece is the
beautifully atmospheric second movement which - to my mind - may be one of
the most poetic pieces of music that Lopes-Graça ever penned.
It’s still full of tension as the quiet, nocturnal mood of the opening
is progressively disturbed by some unsettling dissonance and a stringency
that is eventually released in the conclusion of the movement, a varied
restatement of the opening.
The Second Piano Concerto was completed in 1950, revised in 1952
although there seems to be some discrepancy about the time the second
version was written: 1952 or 1954. It was revised again in 1971 which is the
version heard here. From the very beginning the mood is at once sombre and
dramatic. Again Bartók might have been a model although
Lopes-Graça still remains his own man throughout. The music of the
first movement is more percussive while relying on ostinatos and repeated
notes. It’s obviously less exuberant than the First Piano Concerto
while retaining some Iberian flavour, albeit in a less obvious way than in
the earlier work. The slow movement subtitled Evocação de
pays sincere homage to the French composer. The long unaccompanied
theme heard at the outset of the movement is clearly reminiscent of the slow
movement of Ravel's Concerto in G though this is neither parody nor
plagiarism. The orchestra progressively joins in with increasing tension but
the movement eventually ends with what Ivan Moody describes as “a
strange evocative ghost of a waltz for the piano”. The concluding
movement is a rather heavy-threading Toccata with some darker episodes and
it ends rather abruptly.
Lopes-Graça's two piano concertos are substantial works among
his other pieces for piano of which he composed quite a lot. Some of them
are certainly worth mentioning such as his cycle of six sonatas (1934, 1939
rev. 1956, 1952 rev. 1959, 1961, 1977 and 1981) that are available in a
double CD set (Numérica NUM 1124 played by António Rosado).
There’s also a set of 24 Prelúdios
that I have
still to hear, the two suites Viagens na minha terra
which he made an orchestral version in 1969 and the substantial In
Memoriam Béla Bartók
, a set of eight progressive
suites along the model of Bartók's Mikrokosmos
music is fairly simple in the early suites and gets more complex along the
way, composed between 1960 and 1975. A recording of the complete cycle is
available on Numérica NUM 1145 also played by António Rosado.
This disc is the second one entirely devoted to Lopes-Graça's
music released by Naxos (see review
). Both give cause for reassessment of
Lopes-Graça's achievement which should definitely not be overlooked.
Other substantial works still cry out to be recorded anew or simply
recorded. It is to be hoped that this Naxos CD will encourage further
recordings of this never indifferent music.
As far as I can judge these performances are very fine, strongly
committed and well recorded.
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