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Joly BRAGA SANTOS (1924-1988)
Complete Chamber Music - Volume 2
Piano Quartet, Op. 28 (1957) [14:41]
Suite of Dances, Op. 63, for piano, oboe, viola and double bass (1984) [12:45]
Piano Trio, Op. 64 (1985) [27:48]
Adagio e Scherzino for woodwind quintet (1956) [6:41]
Suite for Brass for three trumpets, horn, two trombones and tuba (1985) [9:25]
rec. 2017/18, Centro Cultural de Belem, Lisbon

The second volume of Toccata’s series devoted to Joly Braga Santos’ complete chamber music (see review of Volume 1) rather cleverly focusses on two specific periods, 1956-57 and 1984-85. The three-decade gap between these two selected time frames does not reveal so strong a stylistic divide as one might imagine. But it does show how attractive and accessible his music remained and how he negotiated modality and chromaticism, contrasting and fusing, to the advantage of his endlessly engaging music.

There are two major works in this volume. The earlier is the Piano Quartet of 1957, a single-movement, 15-minute piece that marries drama and serenity, rich textures with lingeringly lovely melodies, and places these elements in a clearly demarcated yet still fluid, almost fantasia-like form. Constant variation of colour irradiates the composer’s natural lyricism and his gift for concise action ensures that the Piano Quartet begins and ends with satisfying vitality.

Three years before his death he completed his Piano Trio, Op. 64, a three-movement piece cast on an altogether larger span than the Piano Quartet. It’s also rather more watchful, emotively, and evinces a quiet melancholia in places that deepens the moods of the piece, notably when contrasted with some jagged rhythmic writing. The central movement however is brilliantly fast, a moto perpetuo of galvanising athleticism, often piano-led. With two slow movements framing this scherzo the work begins and ends in introspection but the much longer lento finale, which is longer than both previous movements combined, fascinates because of its refractive stillness, its almost-threnodic implications, and its incremental accretion of detail, texture and colour. Both these works reflect different qualities of Braga Santos’ compositional palette and both are ardent and superb examples of his music-making.

The concertante style predominates in the Suite of Dances for the interesting combination of piano, oboe, viola and double bass. There are three dances, a Preludio, Sarabanda and Tarantella. The first is both lyric and pungent, the second hugely atmospheric in its lonesome chromaticism, whilst the Tarantella is fiery with a ringingly percussive piano driving the ensemble ever forward. The bipartite pleasures of the 1956 Adagio e Scherzino for woodwind quintet – only appreciated after its very late premiere, given the year after the composer’s death – lie in a generously antique polyphony and in its cultivation of incendiary native Portuguese dance rhythms. You’d have to have a heart of pure cement not to love the Scherzino. Finally, there’s the first ever recording of Suite for Brass for three trumpets, horn, two trombones and tuba where the music moves from introversion to burgeoning expression via the synthesis of modal and chromatic elements to which I alluded earlier.

As ever Toccata has not stinted in its production values. The booklet is excellent, full but always pertinent. The recording has been well judged, and the performances are fully attuned to Braga Santos’ musical imperatives. There’s also a wide variety of instrumentation to be savoured here. There’s nothing I didn’t like about this release.

Jonathan Woolf
Jill Lawson, piano (quartet, dances, trio)
Eliot Lawson, violin (quartet, trio)
Natalia Tchitch, viola (quartet, dances)
Catherine Strynckx, cello (quartet, trio)
Adriano Aguiar, double bass (dances)
Ricardo Lopes, oboe (suite, adagio)
Nuno Ivo Cruz, flute (adagio)
António Saiote, clarinet (adagio)
Carolino Carreira, bassoon (adagio)
Paulo Guerreiro, horn (adagio, brass)
Jorge Almeida, trumpet (brass)
António Quítalo, trumpet (brass)
Pedro Monteiro, trumpet (brass)
Jarrett Butler, trombone (brass)
Vítor Faria, trombone (brass)
Ilídio Massacote, tuba (brass)

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