«Luís de Freitas Branco’s symphonies, with their somewhat Franckian cyclical forms (and sometimes melodies), are more conservative than his impressionist, cutting-edge orchestral works from the turn of the 20th century. Vathek is one such, an amazing, luscious, exotic tone poem in the form of a theme and variations. Unperformed until 1950, just five years before the death of its composer, it is a masterpiece, and one of the most remarkable works of its era (there’s a variation written with something like 59 string parts, almost an anticipation of Messiaen or Ligeti).
In the Fourth Symphony (1944–52) Branco recaptures his youthful fire. The work mixes the modal melodies of Gregorian chant with tangy dissonances and supple, Latin rhythms. The result recalls the Hindemith of, say, Nobilissima Visione, though the scoring is quite different and the handling of form more traditional (save in the multi-sectional finale). Certainly this is the finest of the composer’s four symphonies, and a wonderful work by any measure. (mais…)