Santoro: Symphonies Nos 11 and 12; Concerto Grosso; Three Fragments on BACH. Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra / Neil Thomson. © 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd

CD Spotlight

Unabated Passion and Drive

GERALD FENECH finds much to discover in symphonies by Cláudio Santoro

'... performances full of intense power and restless excitement.'


Cláudio Santoro (1919-1989) is considered one of Brazil's great symphonic composers of the twentieth century. A controversial figure, his fourteen symphonies remain the benchmark of the genre in his country's musical development during the last century. Santoro was a member of the Brazilian Communist Party, which brought him major problems during his artistic life and forced him into exile for extended periods. Persecuted by Brazil's military dictatorship, he lived in Germany as a political refugee in the 1970s, during which time he served as professor of conducting at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik Heidelberg-Mannheim.

Santoro returned to Brazil in 1978, when he was invited to set up the orchestra of Brasilia's Teatro Nacional, where subsequently he became its first principal director. In tandem with this he resumed his activities as professor of composition and conducting at Brasilia University. Both the orchestra and his teaching would be of central importance to him during the last ten years of his life.

Listen — Santoro: Allegro vivo (Concerto Grosso)
(8.574406 track 3, 0:00-0:53) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

This release in the ongoing Naxos cycle of Santoro's symphonic works features two pieces composed during his last decade. The Eleventh Symphony is one of the densest and most dramatic in Santoro's symphonic canon. Written in 1984, it was premiered in 1987, and with its compact three-movement structure, the work lasts less than twenty minutes. The first movement contrasts an air of desolation with more vibrant passages. The second movement is a short lively scherzo in which the flamboyant writing showcases the woodwind, brass and percussion instruments. The involvement here of the entire orchestra comes in striking contrast to the linearity of the first movement.

The final movement reproduces all the elements featured in the previous two movements - the chromatic, desolate introduction, both the dense passages and agile unisons in the strings, the angular lines, the ostinato rhythms in the percussion, the rapid brass calls. All these overlap until the dramatic ending, when the orchestra suddenly disappears after a passage of pounding timpani that somehow recalls the opening of Brahms' First.

Listen — Santoro: Lento - Allegro vivo (Symphony No 11)
(8.574406 track 6, 5:04-6:00) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

In 1983, Santoro had been invited to write the competition pieces for the second 'Sul America' Young Musicians of Brazil Competition, held in Rio. This commission led to a series of fifteen 'Sul America Fantasias' for solo instruments. Santoro also wrote an optional orchestral accompaniment for each fantasia, probably so that finalists or winners could perform them in that format. Later that year, Santoro completed his Fantasia Concertante, which essentially brought together elements of those solo works with orchestra, using transitional bars to allow the music to flow without a break. Never performed as Santoro had envisaged it, the work eventually became the basis for his Twelfth Symphony completed in 1987 and subtitled 'Sinfonia Concertante' for eight instruments and orchestra. Using the competition pieces as thematic material, Santoro expanded the orchestration and, indeed, the whole role of the orchestra in the work.

The opening movement begins with the solo violin and cello, which are heard together at first, then alternate with one another. Flute and clarinet follow the same procedure in the following section. The recapitulation of the first theme is entrusted to the viola. Next comes a very short, lively and rather martial-sounding scherzo for just one solo instrument - the trumpet. The finale starts with the oboe solo which, initially upbeat, turns into the most lyrical episode in the symphony with a discreet orchestral accompaniment.

Listen — Santoro: Allegro - Moderato (Symphony No 12)
(8.574406 track 12, 0:00-0:54) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

A cadenza introduces the horn solo, which opens the second part of this movement. The last soloist, the trombone, returns to the horn's initial material, but develops it in a more assertive and vibrant style. Sadly, Santoro never heard his Twelfth Symphony performed. The work had to wait until 2019 to receive its premiere, as part of the events organised to mark the centenary of the composer's birth.

In addition to these two symphonies, this disc also incorporates the composer's Concerto Grosso (1980) and the Three Fragments on BACH (1985), two works that are relatively conventional in structure and design but are reminiscent of the earlier phase of the composer's career, the former in particular.

Listen — Santoro: Allegro vivo (ma non troppo) (Three Fragments on BACH)
(8.574406 track 9, 2:04-3:03) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

Neil Thomson has this challenging music under his skin, and as in previous issues, his conducting oozes unabated passion and drive that inspire his players of the Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra to performances full of intense power and restless excitement. In the meantime, this innovative cycle is really taking shape in a most impressive way. Not easy to chew, but much to discover. Sound and booklet notes are first-rate.

Copyright © 8 December 2022 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta








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