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"Brazilian Adventures"

Ex Cathedra
Dir: Jeffrey Skidmore

rec: Sept 2 - 4, 2014, London, All Hallows, Gospel Oak
Hyperion - CDA68114 (© 2015) (77'46")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Matais de incêndios, villancico; José Maurício Nunes GARCIA (1767-1830): Missa pastoril para a noite de natal; André da Silva GOMES (1752-1844): Missa a 8 vozes e instrumentos; José Joaquim Emerico LOBO DE MESQUITA (1746-1805): Ave Maria; Gloria; Padre nosso; Luís Álvarez PINTO (1719-1789?): Beata virgo; Lição de solfejo No. 25a; Oh! Pulchra es; Theodoro Cyro DE SOUZA (1761-?): Ascendit Deus

Sources: Luís Álvarez Pinto, Muzico e moderno systema para solfejar sem confuzão, 1776; José Joaquim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita, Tercio, 1783

Elizabeth Drury, Louise Prickett, Katie Trethewey, Amy Wood, soprano; Martha McLorinan, contralto; Edward McMullan, alto; Samuel Boden, Thomas Hobbs, Ashley Turnell, tenor; Nick Ashby, Adrian Horsewood, Greg Skidmore, bass
Mark Bennett, Simon Munday, trumpet; Roger Montgomery, Richard Bayliss, French horn; Katherine Spencer, Margaret Archibald, clarinet; Mik Brain, Holly Reardon, bassoon; Rodolfo Richter, Colin Scobie, violin, viola; Andrew Skidmore, Imogen Seth-Smith, cello; Kate Aldridge, double bass; Bill Carter, theorbo, guitar; James Johnstone, organ (soloa); Simone Rebello, percussion

In the last twenty years or so the musical life and culture of Latin America have received increasing attention. Extensive research has resulted in the discovery of large collections of music, either imported from Europe or written on the spot, and instruments of the period some of which are still in use. However, it is mostly the Spanish part of Latin America which has been the subject of performances and recordings. Far less is known about the music history of Brazil and the repertoire which has been written by Brazilian composers before the 19th century. The present disc is the result of close contacts between Jeffrey Skidmore and several experts from Brazil who have introduced him to some of the best composers of the 18th century.

Obviously Brazilian musical culture was strongly influenced by what came from Portugal and also from Spain. The first item of the programme attests to that. Matais de incêndios is a villancico for Christmastide: "You light fires that kill, my lovely boy". It is for two solo voices which are joined by the tutti. It has been preserved in a copy from around 1730 but seems much older and that makes it the oldest piece on this disc. It comprises eight verses which unfortunately are split into two halves; the verses five to eight are performed between the two masses.

These two compositions are the main works of this disc. José Maurício Nunes Garcia is considered one of the most important Brazilian composers around 1800. In 1798 he became mestre de capela of Rio de Janeiro Cathedral, and the next decade was the most fruitful period in his career. Later he was gradually overshadowed by Marcos Portugal who arrived in 1811, and his production started to wane. The Missa pastoril para la noite de natal, a mass for Christmas Eve, opens with a pastoral motif which returns several times and which is not unlike what we know from Italian music of the 18th century. This work dates from 1808 and was originally scored for choir and organ. Three years later Garcia reworked it for nine solo voices, choir and an ensemble comprising pairs of violas, cellos, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and horns, plus timpani and organ. It is the most modern work of the programme which also includes some influences from popular music - not unusual in music for Christmastide.

The second mass is very different. Unlike Garcia André da Silva Gomes was not born in Brazil but in Lisbon. At the age of 21 he moved to Brazil where in 1774 he was appointed mestre de capela of Saõ Paulo Cathedral; he occupied this post until 1822. He wrote a treatise on counterpoint and therefore it doesn't come as a surprise that his Missa a 8 vozes e instrumentos - a missa brevis which comprises Kyrie and Gloria - is dominated by counterpoint. A lack of stylistic unformity is one of its features. That is not meant as criticism; I find it one of the most compelling pieces on this disc and more interesting than Garcia's mass. On the one hand Gomes's mass includes arias which are clearly rooted in the 18th century and have some operatic traits, although less so than those in Garcia's mass. 'Qui tollis peccata mundi', a duet of the two tenors, is especially delightful. On the other hand, the tutti episodes remind me of the style known as 'colossal baroque' which made its appearance in the late 17th century in Italy, for instance in the works of Giacomo Perti and Giovanni Paolo Colonna. It is interesting to note that this style is also present in the oeuvre of the Spanish composer Josep Mir i Llussà (c1700-1764). The fact that this mass is for eight voices in two choirs and that the instrumental scoring includes parts for trumpets further emphasize its 'old-fashioned' features.

Another composer in whose oeuvre counterpoint plays an important role is Luís Álvarez Pinto who played a key role in musical life in Recife from the early 1760s until his death. That comes clearly to the fore in the two pieces from the collection Divertimentos harmônicos and a keyboard piece from Lição de solfejo. José Joaquim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita was active in the province of Minas Gerais during the second half of the 18th century. His three motets from the collection Tercio of 1783 are largely homophonic and scored for four voices (SSAB) with solo episodes for one or two sopranos. Lastly Theodoro Cyro de Souza: he was from Portugal and settled in Brazil in 1781 where he worked in Salvador and developed into one of the most important Brazilian music theorists. The motet for Ascension Day, Ascendit Deus, is a mixture of polyphony and homophony, scored for five voices and bc, with some nice text expression.

This disc gives an interesting insight into musical life in Brazil in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Its amalgam of styles is probably typical of a region which is relatively isolated from the rest of the world but at the same time sees the influx of musicians from overseas which bring the latest music and tastes along with them. It results in a varied and interesting musical landscape. I assume that the music performed here was recorded for the first time. Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra turn out to be engaging and musically convincing advocates of this repertoire. The soloists do a fine job both in the larger-scale works as in the pieces with a small line-up.

There is still work to be done in regard to the exploration of Brazilian music of the 18th and early 19th centuries. I know of several recordings by Brazilian performers and ensembles but unfortunately these are hardly known outside Brazil. Hopefully these will become available to a wider audience.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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