GMCD 7296 – Paradisi portas – Music from 17th Century Portugal

The Choir of the Queen’s College Oxford, Owen Rees – Director, Tom Wilkinson – Organ

To the CD in our Shop

American Record Guide January/February 2007

The principal work in this program of liturgical music from early 17th-Century Portugal is the six-part Paradisi Portas Mass by Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650). The title comes from the words of a Lenten responsory (“The time of fasting has opened for us the gates of paradise”), but this is not a Lenten work. It appears to be based an the motet ‘Vivo Ego Dicit Dominus’ by Cardoso’s patron, Duke Joao of Braganca, who became King John IV of Portugal in 1640 following the Portuguese rebellion against Spanish rule. It is certainly not based an Cardoso’s motet of the same name, also included an the program. The mass was published in 1636, and Owen Rees suggests in his program notes that the title refers more to the aspirations for Portuguese independence from Spain than to the liturgical function or musical source for the setting. On this recording other motets and organ pieces are inserted between the movements of the mass. The choral music is conservative for its time, adhering to the traditional vocal polyphonic style, though perhaps more harmonically directed than one might find in music of earlier generations.
The mixed choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford delivers a decent choral sound, but not to the standard of such undergraduate mixed choirs as Trinity and Clare Colleges, Cambridge, let alone the finest English professional concert choirs. Apart from that, one must question whether this light and unmistakably English sound is an appropriate vehicle for music from the Iberian peninsula. I must confess that I found nothing particularly exciting about this recording.

CMQ September 2006

I Write this as Portugal has been knocked out of the World Cup. Scolari, Ricardo et al. could do well to sooth their sorrows with this excellent selection of music from fellow Iberians, Duarte Lobo, Manuel Cardoso and Pablo Burana. While Salvatore Sacco and Palestrina were calming the musical sensitivities of Vatican priests, Cardoso’s preoccupation was the João, Duke of Braganca, who was to become King John IV of Portugal, the accredited composer of Crux fulelis. Cardoso’s Missa Paradisi portas is the central work – yes, we have another CD constructed around the Mass – laced with organ music and plainsong from his contemporaries.

The Gramophone June 2006

‘Paradisi portas’

Owen Rees continues his exploration of the Portuguese polyphonic repertoire with this fine anthology centred around Cardoso’s Missa Paradisi portas, hitherto unrecorded. Rees points out the political implications of the work, related as it is to a motet, Vivo ego dicit Dominus, written by Duke John of Braganza, in a Portugal then under Spanish rule. It’s an impressive work and serves well as a framework for the rich variety of other rare works included here. Among these, particularly noteworthy are Morago’s Jesu redemptor, Brito’s Heu, Domine, Aranda’s Quomodo sedet sola, with its remarkable amalgamated text, and the anonymous Obra de falsas cromáticas, which ought to make any organist’s mouth water.

The Choir of Queen’s College clearly relish singing this music but there are moments when I wish speeds had been a little slower (most notably in the opening Audivi vocem by Duarte Lôbo, which sounds almost perfunctory). Rees is not afraid to have the entire choir sing the chant, as in the alternatim Kyrie of the Mass, an example :that could usefully be followed by other conductors, and the choral blend is excellent.
Ivan Moody

International Record Review April 2006

Anonymous Obra de falsas cromäticas de primo tono. Manducaverunt, et saturati sunt. Tantum ergo sacramentum. Aranda Quomodo sedet sola. Brito Heu, Domine. Bruna Tiento de primo tono de mano derecha. Paradisi portas. Sitivit anima mea. Leitao de Aviles Adjuva nos. Lobo Audivi vocem de caelo. Pater peccavi. Morago Jesu redemptor, suscipe illam. Olague Verso do primo tom. Reis Concertato sobre o canto chao de Ave Maria.

Latin texts and English translations included. Producer David Trendell. Engineer Andrew Lang. Date April 19th-21st, 2005.

Previous Guild discs by the Choir of Queen’s College, Oxford have for the most part featured works by twentieth-century English composers. This latest release is therefore somewhat of a departure in being a première recording of seventeenth-century Portuguese composer Manuel Cardoso’s Missa Paradisi portas, interspersed with motets and organ pieces by other composers of the same milieu.

Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650), mestre da capela and sub-prior at the Carmehte Convent in Lisbon, found favour with both King Joao IV of Portugal and King Philip IV of Spain; many of his works are dedicated to the former, including a collection of Masses that contains the Missa Paradisi portas. Other pieces an the recording include motets by Duarte Lobo, de Aviles, Aranda and an anonymous Tantum ergo sacramentum which Owen Rees quite rightly calls exquisite. In his booklet notes, Rees also says that, while not aiming at a liturgical reconstruction (or originality), he has tried with this recording to ‘give some idea of the way motets and organ music were frequently employed at Mass in between the movements of the polyphonic Mass Ordinary’. Thus the tracks after the Gloria are grouped under such headings as ‘At the Gradual’ or ‘At Communion’, reflecting liturgical function.

So, provided you at least get the gist of the spiritual import of the text, this format suggests not only the ceremonial qualities of the Eucharist but gives the entire programme an almost symphonic emotional shape. The music’s adapting traditional sixteenth-century polyphony to seventeenth-century ideas about harmony only adds further to a listening experience that appeals to both head and heart.

Those who don’t have a problem with the pure yet complex palate of a youthful mixed choir of this kind (and I don’t) will find the performances more than satisfactory. Ensemble, Intonation and Balance are excellent; Rees’s direction allows for careful yet expressive shaping of phrases according to the meaning of the text, without trumping the composer’s changes in texture. Just listen to the confident approach in the Credo, the climax an `de caelis’ draining into a beautifully serene yet perfectly controlled `Et incarnatus .. ‘, the whole crowned by a luminous, forthright `Amen’.

The organ pieces, played with great delicacy by Queen’s College Organ Scholar Tom Wilkinson, are both attractive and interesting: Bruna’s Tiento de prima tono de mano derecha,

with its slightly zany syncopations, is particularly engaging. And if the acoustic of the Chapel of Queen’s College really sounds as good as Guild’s recording has it, I can’t wait to visit.

Were this magazine silly enough to utilize a star system, I’d give this disc five out of five.
Robert Levett

MusicWeb Tuesday April 25  2006

An attractive programme – much of it unfamiliar – very competently performed. Recommended to those with an interest in the period. … Glyn Pursglove

At the core of this CD is Manuel Cardoso’s Missa Paradisi portas. A fascinating figure, Cardoso joined the Carmelite Order in 1588, taking vows in July of the following year. The well-endowed Convento do Carmo in Lisbon had a substantial musical life, including both singers and instrumentalists and Cardoso became the dominant figure in the music of the Convent. Later he was in the service of the Duke of Bragança, the future King John (João) IV of Portugal. Cardoso published three books of masses, the Missa Paradisi portas appearing as the first in the composer’s second collection, published in 1636. As Owen Rees points out in his excellent booklet notes, the title of the mass is something of a puzzle, but may contain an important clue to one dimension of its meaning. The words seem to be an allusion to one of the responsories sung at Matins during the first week of Lent:

Paradisi portas aperuit nobis jejunii tempus: suscipiamus illud orantes, et deprecantes: Ut in die resurrectionis cum Domino gloriemur.

The time of fasting has opened for us the gates of paradise: let us undertake it, praying and pleading: that on the day of resurrection we may rejoice with the Lord.

But the Mass makes no use of the plainchant melody for this responsory; nor can it have been intended for performance during Lent, since it includes the Gloria, never sung during Lent. A setting of the responsory text as a motet for four voices which may be by Cardoso – and which is also recorded here – again has no musical relationship with the Mass. Rees points out that this second book of Masses was dedicated to the future king and that in his dedication Cardoso points out that João had provided him with his themes. >From 1580 onwards, Portugal had been ruled by Spain; by the 1630s Portuguese hopes for the restoration of a Portuguese monarch, of liberation from Spanish rule, were very much centred on João and Rees persuasively demonstrates that Cardoso’s setting contains coded messages of support for such hopes. It is a fascinating example of the way in which Renaissance and Baroque artists – poets, composers, painters and architects alike – often contrive to articulate political statements within works which have no obvious or explicit political agenda; how patterns of patronage can often contain clues to one level, at least, of a work’s meaning. Musically speaking, the Mass is characteristic of Cardoso’s subtle use of counterpoint in a manner much influenced by Palestrina. The music is richly textured, the word-setting expressive, the use of dissonance subtle and effective.

Around the Mass, the CD includes a variety of other music by Cardoso and his – more-or-less – contemporaries. One of the finest pieces is Cardoso’s six-voice motet Sitivit anima mea, based on a conflation of two Psalm texts – the generally helpful documentation might have been a bit more explicit on the sources of some of the texts – with its poignant spiritual yearning and its beautiful closing passage as the text speaks of aspirations towards a flight to heavenly rest. Elsewhere, the two surviving motets of Duarte Lobo are included. His remarkable Audivi vocem de cælo makes a wonderful opening to the CD, one of the minor masterpieces of Portuguese polyphony. Most of the unfamiliar music by lesser-known masters such as Manuel Leitão de Aviles and Estèvão de Brito – whose Heu, Domine is particularly striking – proves to be very interesting and sometimes compelling.

The Frobenius organ in Queen’s College Chapel – I have fond memories of going, as a student, to hear early recitals on the organ at the time of its installation in 1965 – is heard to attractive effect in four pieces, well played by Tom Wilkinson, that by the Spaniard Pablo Bruna being particularly intriguing, with some unexpected figurations and syncopations.

Throughout, the performances are highly competent, the higher voices resonant and sure, the handling of intricate textures generally very clear, the balance between formality of structure and expressive detail well sustained. The programme has been well chosen and constructed and the choir does it justice. The recorded sound is excellent and captures well the acoustic of the chapel.

The booklet, as well as a useful essay by Owen Rees – in English and German – contains full Latin texts, with English translations and – a particular pleasure – a cover reproduction of James Thornhill’s The Ascension, from the ceiling of the chapel, a fine piece of English  baroque art.
Glyn Pursglove