Alberto Nepomuceno: Symphony in G minor
Although not particularly known outside of his native country of Brazil, the music of Alberto Nepomuceno has recently been recorded and shown to the world. The son of a violinist and music educator, Nepomuceno was born in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza in 1864. As well as education in Brazil, Nepomuceno also travelled to Rome and Berlin to study with some of the top European masters. After spending much time in Europe, Nepomuceno returned back to his motherland in 1894, where he taught at the National Institute of Music.
Nepomuceno made a few trips across to Europe and whilst there rubbed shoulders with the likes of Edvard Grieg, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy. Nepomuceno’s style of writing has a unique blend of traditional Brazilian flair and European traditions. He inspired lots of his students to pursue careers in music, including Heitor Villa-Lobos. He is known as one of the finest Brazilian composers ever, although sadly now his music is seldom performed.
In 2019, Naxos announced a new series called ‘Music of Brazil’, which is set to see a number of recordings of some of the best 19-20th century classical music from Brazil. The first volume saw Fabio Mechetti and the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra take on Nepomuceno’s music, including his Brazilian Suite, O Garatuja and Symphony in G minor.
Symphony in G minor was composed in 1893, a year before Nepomuceno left Europe to go back to Brazil. The symphony shows the heavy European influences that Nepomuceno had whilst on his travels as the music shadows the music of Mendelssohn and Brahms throughout. Set into four movements, this classically put-together symphony pays homage to some of the European greats.
Movement I – Allegro con enthusiasmo
The opening, and longest, movement of the symphony begins with a dramatic string theme. Nepomuceno’s rich orchestration at the start creates intensity that builds from within and has you hooked from the very beginning. A handful of different themes emerge throughout, with each one slowly making its way around the orchestra. The balance between solo lines and glorious tutti sections really adds to the appeal of this opening movement.
Bold brass enter the mix as the orchestra build to the climax which bursts into rich orchestral colours from each section of the orchestra. The themes are developed, revisited and a coda plays out which sees a repeat of the dramatic opening theme. The movement ends boldly, with the orchestra playing in unison.
Movement II – Andante quasi adagio
The slow opening of the second movement sees Nepomuceno utilise the strings, as this romantic chorale takes over. This kind of string writing was very popular in Europe at the time and certainly highlights some of that influence here. The music is poignant and slowly builds across the movement. Solo woodwind lines penetrate the rich string textures during the middle of the movement, which adds a new dimension to the music. The movement concludes quietly.
Movement III – Scherzo – Intermezzo – Scherzo
The peppy third movement reflects the classical tradition of a scherzo and trio section. The charismatic percussion accentuates the fast-moving wind and string melodic fragments. The quick tempo through the scherzo section is infectious, with the whole orchestra taking on a much lighter approach to the music.
The lyrical trio, or ‘Intermezzo’ section is a stark contrast from the scherzo. Nepomuceno’s rich string writing sings again here, with the broad melody being at the centre of this section. The quirky scherzo emerges from nowhere again for a repeat of the opening which leads this movement to end in an effervescent style.
Movement IV – Con fuoco
The bold opening of the finale movement sees the brass take a lead role in proclaiming this new fanfare-like theme. The other sections follow in the style and as the music begins to knit together, so does the orchestra. There is notably more unison playing in this movement, which creates powerful walls of sound that allow for the lighter sections to create more impact. This finale movement ties together all the best bits of the symphony and Nepomuceno’s style. From the drama of the first movement, to the lyrical second movement and the quirky scherzo, this movement combines all of these things to create a really effective finale.
Although seldom performed or programmed today, the world deserves to hear the fantastic music of Alberto Nepomuceno. It is a great thing that Naxos has started this Brazilian series, with the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Fabioo Mechetti, bringing to life this wonderfully constructed music.
Ⓒ Alex Burns