Reviews

GMCD 7323 – Caeli Porta

The Choir of the Queen’s College Oxford, Owen Rees – director

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Fanfare Magazine July / August 2009

This music of the Portuguese Tate Renaissance is all recorded here for the first time. Some composers, such as Duarto Lôbo, are familiar, while Manuel Leitäo de Aviles, who died in 1630, is quite unfamiliar. The latter was Portuguese but spent the last three decades of his life at the royal chapel in Grenada. The chapel, a mausoleum for Ferdinand and Isabella, was established in the city whose fall in 1492 marked the end of the Reconquista. The period here belongs to the time from 1580 to 1640 when the Spanish kings ruled Potrtugal, bringing Portuguese musicians to Spain. Lôbo’s Missa de beata Virgine Maria is a lovely work, calm and restrained. Unlike the usual paraphrase masses, which use a Single cantus firmus throughout, this uses the chant melodies of each movement in the respective settings, even though they are not all in the Same mode. Pedro de Cristo supplies two psalms (chant antiphons are provided), while Coelho uses faburden in two canticles. Leitão is represented by two motets and a lamentation. Several Organ pieces by Conceicão and Coelho are included as interludes.
Rees recorded two discs of similar music Some years ago (18:2). At that time I found his chant interpretations Singular, but the two antiphons here are entirely straightforward. Since then he has come to Queen’s College, which now has a choir of adult mixed voices, not the ferst Oxford College to abandon the tradition of boys and men. As a program, this disc offers a variety of textures and forms, and as an addition to a comprehensive Renaissance collection it enlarges the recorded repertoire. Guild issued an earlier disc similar to this that did not arrive for review.
J. F. Weber

American Record Guide July / August 2009

This is an interesting anthology of 16th- and 17th Century sacred music from Lisbon and Granada. Many of the composers included are not well represented an recordings: Aires Fernandez (fl. c. 1550), Pedro de Cristo (c.1550­-1618), Joan de Avila (fl. c.1600), and Diego da Conceicao (17th Century).
A particular project of the director is to record the works of Manuel Leitao de Aviles (d.1630); three of his eight surviving works are included on this release.
Perhaps the best-known composer is Duarte Lobo (c.1565-1646), whose complete Beata Virgine Maria Mass is the centerpiece of this collection. The works of Manuel Rodrigues Coelho (c.1555-c.1635) are less well represented an recordings; and this release, in addition to two skort organ works, includes reconstructions of his ‘Magnificat’ in the 4th Tone, where chant, organ versets, and polyphonic Improvi­sation (fabordao) alternate, and his `Nunc Dimittis’ for sopranos and organ.
The Choir of the Queen’s College is an excellent mixed-voice choir where the women approximate the Sound of English choir Boys. The Balance and Intonation are excellent, and Rees guides them with an appropriate gravity. Rees also offers excellent notes, and there are full texts and translations.                                                                               
BREWER

International Record Review April 2009

New Avila Circumdederunt me. Aviles In jejunio et fletu. Lamentations. Non est inventus. Coelho Magnificat: Versos do Quarto Toma. Nunc dimittis: Verso do Sétimo Tom para se cantar ao òrgão. Primeiro Kyrio do Primeiro Toma. Verso do Siximo Toma. Coneeição Meio Registoa. Cristo Dixit Dominus. Dominus vobiscum/Et cum spiritu tuo. Laudate pueri. Fernandez Benedicamus Domino. Lobo Alma redemptoris mater. Missa de beata virgine Maria.
Owen Rees continues his traversal of the riches of Iberian polyphone with a fine collection built on the idea of the `union of the crowns’ of Spain and Portugal, which therefore permits a musical axis linlcing Lisbon and Granada. The centrepiece of the recording may appear to be Duarte Lobo’s
Missa de Beata Virgine Maria, and in some ways it is, but it is not a vehicle for display in the way that others among the composer’s Mass settings are. It is comparatively modest in scale and scored for four voices, but it shows all Lobo’s habitual contrapuntal skill and flair for colour, and it is intriguing to trace the chant melodies that run through the work’s sections (Rees astutely notes the procedural similarity with Requiem Masses). The modest dimensions of the Lobo mean that there is plenty of room to explore the panIberian aspect of the recording, principally by means of the inclusion of unknown (and certainly unrecorded, in common with the rest of the disc) works by Portuguese Manuel Leitão de Aviles, choirmaster of Granada Cathedral from 1603 to 1630, the year of his death. It’s not great music but it is never less than interesting, and Aviles’s setting of the Lamentations for Holy Thursday is a fine example of the compact, colourful Iberian style of this period. Also faseinating is Circumdederunt me by Joan de Avila, in many ways the most impressive work on this disc The work appears also in Mexico, where in one source it is attributed to Padilla: it is certainly far from unworthy of the latter and not an unreasonable attribution the context, but a couple of hearings suggest that the ascription to the far-from-familiar Avila (or at least to a composer other than Padilla) can stand. Both this work and the outstanding Laudate pueri by Pedro de Cristo draw some very fine singing indeed from the Choir of Queen’s College. Elsewhere the performances can sometimes seem a little perfunctory, but there are, in compensation, some unexpectedly outstanding contributions, such as the unison chant singing by the female voices, which go to add lustre to an already impressive recording. The inclusion, too, of organ music by Diego da Conceição and Manuel Rodrigues Coelho, splendidly performed by Charlotte Phillips, adds some welcome variety.
Ivan Moody

Klassikcom Wednesday February 11 2009

Spanische Vokalpolyphonie ist ein selbstverständlicher Teil des Repertoires vieler spezialisierter Vokalensembles, im Plattenmarkt sind Morales, Victoria und Zeitgenossen gut vertreten, auch qualitativ muss sich niemand mehr mit zweitrangigen Interpretationen begnügen. Weniger bekannt aber kaum weniger reizvoll sind die portugiesischen Vettern der Spanier: Besonders in der Zeit der Vereinigung der spanischen mit der portugiesischen Krone von 1580 bis 1640 verwoben sich auch die kulturellen Entwicklungen beider Länder und Kulturen immer stärker. Viele Komponisten aus Portugal gingen nach Spanien an die großen Kathedralen, lernten dort, nahmen Einflüsse auf, belebten schließlich ihrerseits das musikalische Leben in ihrer Heimat. Die großen Kathedralen und Klöster in Lissabon und Coimbra wurden zu Zentren einer blühenden Musikpflege, vielfach in enger stilistischer Anlehnung an die spanischen Vorbilder.
Immer wieder waren in der Vergangenheit vor allem englische Ensembles damit befasst, neben dem spanischen auch das portugiesische Repertoire zu erkunden. Die jüngste Veröffentlichung der King’s Singers zeigt ebenso schöne wie charakteristische Ausschnitte, die Tallis Scholars haben sich ebenfalls mit vergleichbarem Repertoire vorgestellt.
Die auf der vorliegenden Platte sämtlich erstmals eingespielten Werke stammen aus dem Umfeld und der Tradition dieser portugiesischen Entwicklungen. Neben anderen sind der Lissabonner Duarte Lobo (ca. 1565-1646), Pedro de Cristo (ca. 1550-1618) oder Manuel Leitão de Aviles (gestorben 1630) vertreten. Die Letztgenannten arbeiten dabei schon in stärker homophoner Faktur als es in den Werken der Hochrenaissance üblich war, bleiben aber dennoch überwiegend im polyphonen Erbe verankert. Die Stärken der einzelnen Psalmen, Motetten und Messsätze liegen deutlich im fließenden Klangstrom und es ist bei jedem der Komponisten klar ersichtlich, dass er sein Handwerk beherrscht und durch eine solide Schule gegangen ist. Kompositorisch stärkster Teil der Aufnahme ist die ‘Missa de beata virgine Maria’ von Duarte Lobo: Hier werden die Möglichkeiten des polyphonen Stils ausgelotet, wird die Musik jedoch im Vergleich zu den Vorläufern in knappere und konzentriertere Sätze gefasst.
Solide
Im Choir of the Queen’s College Oxford singen überwiegend Chorstudenten unterschiedlicher Ausbildungsstände, ergänzt um weitere Angehörige verschiedener Colleges. Zusammen formiert der relativ stark besetzte Chor einen eher leichten Klang, der vor allem in den weit schwingenden Stücken tragfähig ist. In rascheren Tempi ist die gemeinsame Artikulation dagegen nicht mehr so überzeugend. Vor allem die Lobo-Messe musizieren die Vokalisten sehr bewusst, für die Größe der Formation sogar erstaunlich subtil.
Das alles wird in einem kräftigen und ausgewogenen Klangbild realisiert, an dem lediglich in Sachen Plastizität und struktureller Ausarbeitung leichte Abstriche zu machen sind. Insgesamt ist es eine Platte mit reflektierter Programmgestaltung, die ein durchaus interessantes Bild portugiesischer Kirchenmusik auf gutem, gleichwohl nicht überragendem Niveau bietet.
Dr Mathias Lange

MusicWeb International Wednesday January 28 09

www.musicweb-international.com
Queen’s College Choir on their recordings for Guild are making themselves a force to bereckoned with. John Quinn warmly recommended their Eastertide CD (Christ Rising, GMCD7222 – see review), Michael Cookson was most impressed with their recording of music for Ascensiontide, Pentecost and Trinity (Come, Holy Spirit, GMCD7276 – see review) and Glyn Pursglove thought their most recent recording, Paradisi Portas, highly competent (GMCD7296 – see review). Like Paradisi Portas, the new CD presents Iberian music from the 17th-century, mostly by Portuguese composers, though some of these worked in Southern Spain, chiefly in Granada.
Wisely, Queen’s have decided on both occasions not to go head to head with other performers. On the earlier CD the main work was Duarte Lobo’s Missa Paradisi Portas. The centre piece of this new recording is also a mass, Missa de beata virgine Maria, by Duarte Lôbo (not to be confused with Alonso Lobo); neither work, to the best of my knowledge, has otherwise been recorded, though there are several good versions of his 6- and 8-part Requiems. Neglect is never sufficient evidence to judge any music; readers must be tired by now of my referring to neglected masterpieces. The Lôbo mass here may not quite be that, but it is still a very fine work and well worth performing – and hearing.
Unlike their neighbours at New College and Christ Church, who still employ boy trebles, Queen’s now have a mixed choir. I yield to no-one in my love of the traditional treble sound and I have been very pleased recently to remind myself what a wonderful sound the New College and Christ Church choristers are still capable of producing.
Nevertheless, like my colleagues in their response to earlier CDs, I was more than satisfied with the singing of Queen’s mixed choir. Alongside the New College recordings of the Byrd Cantiones Sacræ mentioned above, I also recommend a CD of music from his 1589 and 1591 collections, performed by the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge under Richard Marlow (Chandos CHAN0733). Like Queen’s, Trinity has had a mixed choir for some time and both manage more than to hold up their heads against the more traditional competition. The essence of polyphony is that it should sound uplifting and the performances from both mixed choirs achieve that in large measure.
That they do so is due in no small measure to the combination of scholarship and musicianship of their respective musical directors. The full and informative notes by Owen Rees in the booklet of the new CD, together with the fact that he has edited most of the music would be more than enough to establish his scholarship – check the notes out for yourself on the Guild website – while the performances are more than sufficient to demonstrate his ability to present the wonderful polyphonic music of this period for a modern audience.
Nor must I forget the important contributions of Charlotte Philips, former Senior Organ Scholar, who contributes the organ solos and Tom Wilkinson and Benedict Lewis-Smith, Organ Scholars.
The shorter works are all well worth hearing; the Coelho Nunc Dimittis (track 17) especially attracted my attention, with high parts almost to rival the Allegri Miserere, and it is splendidly sung here. The CD overall may be recommended with the same enthusiasm that my colleagues have shown for the earlier recordings.
I would, however, recommend another recording, by the William Byrd Choir, of Duarte Lôbo and Filipe de Magalhães in preference, since it contains Lôbo’s better-known 8-part Requiem and comes at budget price (Masterpieces of Portuguese Polyphony, Hyperion Helios CDH55138 – see review) but that recording will almost certainly whet your appetite for more, and the new recording will then become an almost mandatory follow-up.
There is also an excellent version of Lôbo’s 6-part Requiem sung by the Tallis Scholars on Gimell CDGIM205, a 2-for-1 set with the Cardoso and Victoria Requiems. Please note that this is Lôbo’s 6-part Requiem, not the 8-part as I erroneously stated in my review of the Helios CD – look out for further details in my February, 2009, Download Roundup. I also intend to atone for my error by posting a full review of CDGIM205 and CDGIM028 (an alternative coupling of the 6-part Lôbo Requiem with his Missa Vox clamantis).
The recording is very good and the presentation, as I have indicated, scholarly and informative yet readable. The cover illustration of the Annunciation and Visitation from the windows in the college chapel is not quite as eye-catching as those of earlier volumes, though attractive enough. Were it not for the very strong competition, I should be favouring this new recording with even greater enthusiasm.
Brian Wilson