Several years ago, Naxos began a series of releases titled Music of Brazil. Since then, the label’s efforts to rediscover the lesser-known works of widely neglected composers from South America’s vastest nation have yielded wonderful results, the latest being a compact disc (8.574402) featuring the music of Claudio Santoro (1919-1989), a gifted 20th century master whose prolifically substantial output includes a number of large orchestral works, two of which are included in this impressively recorded compact disk.

As other composers who left their homelands in search of greener musical pastures only to finally return to their cultural roots, Santoro first developed at home under the tutelage of several European masters, later journeying to Europe, where he pursued further studies under Nadia Boulanger, and finally returning home

The superb maestro Neil Thomson leads the Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra in a formidable reading of Claudio Santoro’s symphonies nos. 5 and 7. The various sections of the orchestra are absolutely first class: the woodwinds have several first seat players among them with soloist chops, the percussion section is as good as any this listener has heard, the string section plays as a chamber ensemble, combining precision and a sumptuous tone, the brass section plays brightly yet never stridently. In short, this is a world class ensemble.

As one listens to this vibrantly compelling, exuberantly orchestrated Symphony no.7, one discerns a mix of Brazilian rhythmic elements in a spontaneous combination with 20th century European atonality.

The lengthy opening Allegro announces itself as an event that comprises foreboding episodes, some contrapuntally intricate, some offering here and there a bit of quiet. A decisively reappearing Hemiola rhythm drives the movement forward but always contrasted with respite from the woodwinds.

In the second movement of his Symphony No. 7, premiered in 1960 on the occasion of the opening of Brazilia, Brazil’s new capital, one hears mysterious rumblings in the lower strings juxtaposed to boldly atonal yet lyrical solos from the oboe and later the clarinet, then augmented by melancholy melodies coming from the strings. What could easily add up to a mélange of compositional ideas coalesces into an emotionally charged movement frequently interrupted by massive fortissimo tutti outbursts.

The third movement – playfully dance-like – is an oasis of quietude that nonetheless refuses to become musically complacent: the rhythmic insistence is there, providing the percussion section plenty of work, leading to a surprisingly abrupt ending.

The symphony comes to an end in a dramatic finale that felicitously binds all of the work’s ideas in a cohesive manner.   

Santoro’s Symphony No. 5 – an earlier work – also has all the ingredients that make a large orchestral work come together: superb orchestration, intelligent structuring, and an abundance of compositional ideas, many of them quintessentially Brazilian.

Listening to this work and to Santoro’s Symphony No. 7 this listener is again reminded of the narrow scope of the repertoire of American symphony orchestras, this being the first time in over sixty years of concert-going and listening to music recordings that one has encountered the music of Claudio Santoro.

Here is hoping against hope that the superb Naxos Music of Brazil series will bring about a salutary change.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS