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FERNANDO LOPES-GRAÇA (1906-1994) Twenty Four Preludes (1950-55, rev 1964)   Miguel Henriques (piano) rec St George's Church, Lisboa, 25-26 Feb 1998 PORTUGALSOM SP 4216 [70:58]


see below


This is the most recent issue by Portugalsom and deserves a heralding it is unlikely to receive from any other quarter (not that I get to see Fanfare these days).

Lopes-Graça's piano music is neither modernistic nor complacently retrospective. Messiaen and early Sorabji come to mind from time to time although it is by no means as 'advanced' as these parallels may set you thinking. It is better to think of these as impressionistic cousins to Granados Goyescas and Falla's piano solo music.

The music is usually provocatively phrased and holds the attention with mesmeric interest. As for his approach, the preludes are nicely variegated: repose and excitement are encompassed, fantasy and simple pleasures. The preludes vary in duration from the longest at 4:48 (18) to the shortest at 1:03.

Variety and riches are on offer: an impressionistically shimmering march (1); grim resolve (This Is The Army Mr Jones) in Vaughan Williams tones (2); A scherzando recalling Frank Bridge (3) and a shadowy tenebroso march (4). The fifth prelude is a lively rustico all sunny spring morning like the livelier of Frank Bridge's Two Jefferies poems. Number 6 is Iberian with a typically Moorish slide and slip in the music. Seven speaks of shady trees and Eight of condensation dripping from the roof of some great cavern 'measureless to man'. The Ninth relates closely to a typical accompaniment to a song by Peter Warlock. The tenth has the grimness of No. 2 but is definitely Hispanic in its arching geometry. Number 11 is extremely impressive with a great theme climbing triumphantly out of the depths. The Twelfth (non troppo mosso) bustles with fleetly changing moods.

The Thirteenth's lilt of gentle waves and interacting currents seems set in a submarine cave lit with green shifting light. Its successor is struck through with agitation. Number 15 reverts to the early morning freshness of Prelude 5. Sixteen is a study in clangour followed by a prelude accurately marked . Number 18 has fragile beauty and sense of warm encompassing wonder. 19 mosso seems to relates to play-ground dances or a folksy music box. The twentieth is a whirling firefly of a vivace. Un poco liberamente has a Bridge like hesitancy. Number 22 is presto - as light as an oil film on water and throwing shadows back towards Tarrega's guitar music. the following Allegretto seems uncertain and nervous. The final prelude is a stamping dance one might innocently link with Manuel de Falla. It displays a darkling triumph hard won from the inky depths. Its insistent pressure reminded me also of Medtner. It has the complexity of oceanic depths. The sea plays a very significant role in this important cycle. This is fitting given Portugal's historic links with the sea both as threat and as bountiful provider.

The cycle is dedicated to Luis de Freitas Branco who died in the year when they were completed. The elder composer had written a sequence of 15 preludes in 1918 and these were in turn dedicated to Vianna da Motta, Lopes-Graça's teacher.

The main notes are by Sergio Azevedo although, in addition, the pianist himself contributes a brief essay on the sequence.

There are good long breaks between the tracks. Other companies should take note. You should also note that this disc plays for much longer than is usual in Portusom discs.

I rate these Preludes very highly. Certainly if you appreciate the piano music of de Falla, the Essays in the Modes by John Foulds, the Shostakovich preludes and fugues and the works of Szymanowski you will need to hear this disc.

A fine issue which all lovers of good music should add to their collection.


Rob Barnett


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Rob Barnett

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