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Manuel CARDOSO (1566 - 1650): "Missa Secundi Toni and Other Works"

The Choir of Girton College, Cambridgea; Historical Brass of the Royal Academy of Musicb; Lucy Morrell, organc
Dir: Gareth Wilson

rec: July 13 - 16, 2017, Durham (UK), Ushaw College
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0476 (© 2018) (77'51")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Obra de 2į tomc; Passo de 2į tomc; EstÍv„o DE BRITO (c1575-1641): Sancta Mariaabc; Manuel CARDOSO: Aquam quam ego daboa; Ecce mulier Chananeaa; Magnificat 5. toniabc; Magnificat 8. toniabc; Missa 2. toniabc; Non mortuib; Sitivit anima meabc; Filipe DE MAGALH√ES (c1571-1652): Commissa mea pavescoabc; EstÍv„o Lopes MORAGO (c1575-after 1630): Commissa mea pavescobc

[CGC] Amelia Atkinson, Erin Barnard, Orlen Crawford, Carolee Fairbanks, Clara Hyder, Elizabeth Preece, Holly Slater, Iona Tattersall, Ruth Townsend, soprano; Jessica Ginn, Kit Handscombe, Michaela Higham, Rosalind Skillen, contralto; David McGregor, alto; John Bowskill, Konrad Bucher, Sam Corkin, Dominic Edwards, Ben Ward, tenor; Christopher Hedges, David Lawrence, Jaivin Raj, William Tupman, Mark Wainwright, Lewis West, bass
[HBRAM] Tamsin Cowell, Jeremy West, cornett; Laura Agut, Freddy Ouellette, Quinn Parker, Benedict Vernon, sackbut

Portugal is still a largely unknown part of the European musical landscape. It is true, as Ivan Moody writes in his liner-notes to the present disc, that in recent times a substantial number of recordings of Portuguese music, in particular from the renaissance period, have been released, but most of it is still not part of the standard repertoire of choirs and vocal ensembles. It has to be said that our knowledge of the repertoire is very incomplete, mainly due to the earthquake which hit Lisbon in 1755 and destroyed the music library of the royal court, the main source of sacred repertoire from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Toccata disc under review here is devoted to one of the main composers of what is considered the Portuguese 'golden age': the first half of the 17th century. Ironically that was also the time that Portugal was under Spanish rule. The Portuguese monarchy was restored in 1640. Manuel Cardoso received his musical education at the choir school of …vora Cathedral. On 1 July 1588 he entered the Carmelite Convent in Lisbon and professed there on 5 July 1589. Here he became mestre da capela and sub-prior. A considerable number of his compositions have been lost. Three books with masses have been preserved as well as a book with Magnificat settings and a book with motets. Some further motets have survived in manuscript.

This recording is the result of a concert tour of the Choir of Girton College through Spain and Portugal. The programme that was put together for that tour and which was later recorded, was inspired by the fact that in 1869 Girton became the first residential college for women in Britain to offer degree-level education. Therefore the programme focuses on music about female characters from the Bible: the Virgin Mary (two Magnificat settings, Brito's motet Sancta Maria), a woman from Canaan who asks Jesus to save her daughter from a devil (Cardoso's motet Ecce mulier Chananea) and a Samaritan woman (Cardoso, Aquam quam ego dabo). The choir's director, Gareth Wilson, states in the booklet that Cardoso's Missa Regina coeli would have been a perfect choice for this programme, but it was decided not to record it, because Harry Christophers had done so already with his ensemble The Sixteen. I applaud this decision: too often performers are not aware what their colleagues are doing, and if they are, they often seem not to care and record the same music. As a result there are too many recordings of the same stuff. Wilson decided to opt for the Missa 2. toni instead, "no poor substitute, since it demonstrates the depth and variety of Cardoso's extraordinary compositional language."

Cardoso's mass is interspersed by motets by some of his contemporaries, albeit not in the way of a kind of liturgical reconstruction. Filipe de Magalh„es was one of the most famous Portuguese composers of his time. He was also a pupil of …vora Cathedral's choir school. In 1602 he joined the choir of the royal chapel and in 1623 he became its mestre. Estev„o de Brito may have been one of his pupils. For most of his life he was mestre of MŠlaga Cathedral. Quite a number of works from his pen have been preserved, among them 31 Christmas villancicos. EstÍv„o Lopes Morago was of Spanish birth, and another pupil of …vora Cathedral's choir school, under Magalh„es. For almost his entire life he acted as mestre de capela of the cathedral at Viseu. His music has come down to us in two manuscripts, including together more than 100 pieces.

Although the first half of the 17th century was the period in which Italy saw the emergence of the concertato style, with music for solo voices, often virtuosic instrumental parts and a basso continuo, the composers in Portugal stuck to the stile antico, whose most prominent representative had been Palestrina. It is telling that all the parody masses in Cardoso's first book of masses are based on motets by Palestrina. However, the music by the Portuguese masters is not a mere imitation of Palestrina's style. As the music of their Spanish contemporaries, they often have a particular fluidity and emotional touch one doesn't that often find in the music of the Roman master. Moreover, especially in Cardoso's music there are some harmonic peculiarities, including chromaticism. Whether that is inspired by the text is hard to say on the basis of this recording, because the two motets which attest to this feature of Cardoso's compositional style, are performed instrumentally. However, there is a way in which Cardoso expresses the text: in some of his motets he turns to homophony to emphasize a textual episode. That is the case, for instance, in the motet Ecce mulier Chananea, on the exclamation of the woman: "Have mercy on me, O Son of David". This has a strongly dramatic effect.

As in a previous recording of music by Orlandus Lassus, the choir is joined by an ensemble of renaissance wind instruments. In the case of Lassus I was not entirely convinced by this practice. Some scholars and performers believe that the use of instruments was common practice in Spain and Portugal, but others disagree. We will probably never know how often and on which occasions instruments were used. Obviously it has a negative effect on the intelligibility of the text. The size of the choir, which seems too large to me anyway, does not help in this regard. However, in this music that is a less important factor than in Lassus, and as a result I had less problems with it than in the previous recording. The singing and playing is very fine, although I regret the slight (but not too obtrusive) vibrato in the upper voices, and I have thoroughly enjoyed this recording. That is also due to the excellent quality of the music.

The fact that almost all the pieces on the programme are recorded here for the first time is a further strong argument in favour of this disc. This is a substantial addition to the discography and helps to enhance and deepen our knowledge of a musical culture which is still not fully known and appreciated.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Choir of Girton College, Cambridge

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