> Sacred Music at the Court of King Joao V [GH]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sacred Music at the Court of King Joao V
Jaime DE LA TE Y SAGAU Cantata a Santa Maria;
Joao RODRIGUES ESTEVES, Stabat Mater sections; and Dueto Pinguis est panis;
Carlos SEIXAS Sonatas in A minor, E minor and G major;
Antonio TEIXEIRA, Psalm 126 Nisi Dominus;
Domenico SCARLATTI, Sonatas in D major, K287. D major K288 and G major K328; Salve Regina
Paula Pires de Matos, soprano
Mario Marques, counter-tenor
Gerhard Doderer Organ
Recorded at the Monastery de Arouca, December 1989
STRAUSS SP 4353 [58.12]


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Just in case you are a wee bit hazy on your Portuguese history let me begin by saying that this CD largely concerns the music of the reign of King Joao V but touches upon, and is a reflection of, the previous reigns of Joao IV and King Alfonso VI. Joao V was something of a musical agent provocateur. His era runs from his coronation of 1707 until his death in 1742. He has been called the ‘Pope King’ because instead of promoting the burgeoning spectacle of opera in Portugal, an art form wildly popular in the rest of Europe, he built instead a large church the ‘Convent-palace of Mafra’ (after a vow to St.Anthony, the patron saint of hopeless causes). This church, with its intimate fusion of high-flown architectural ideals, became the home for sacred solo cantatas and vast choral works some of them written especially for the top singers of the time. His three main composers were each awarded the honour of being ‘Knights of the Order of Christ and of Santiago’. Of those composers Jayme de la Te y Sagau and Carlos Seixas are represented here. There was a fine organ and in the Convent-palace organ music was also fostered. This accounts for the Scarlatti and Seixas sonatas on this CD. Scarlatti worked in Portugal from 1719 until 1727. Carlos Seixas was born there and took over Scarlatti’s role as royal music tutor after 1720.

It was said that to walk around Lisbon was to be acutely aware of the deep faith of the great King manifested in the architectural heritage he bequeathed. Sadly much of it did not survive the great earthquake of 1755.

The music of his predecessors who had favoured the great renaissance composers had been the tradition into which King Joao had been brought up. Intricate polyphony in the style of Palestrina and Victoria continued to be written during the reigns of the earlier Kings in the 17th Century by such composers as Joao Rebelo and Fernando de Almeida. King Joao V however was more internationally aware, both artistically and politically, and sent various young composers and musicians off to Italy to study. The fruit of these musicians can be heard in the work of Antonio Teixeira, born in 1707 the year of the great King’s coronation. Listen to Teixeira's Te Deum (The Sixteen have recorded this and it can be heard on Coro 16009 - to be reviewed) to enjoy stylistic variety and freshness, which marks a from the older polyphonic school to Italian inspired cantatas where the emphasis is on vocal virtuosity through the form of the ‘stile concertati’.

CDs of Portuguese Baroque Church Music are not exactly commonplace and I wish that I could be more enthusiastic about this one. However I’m sorry to say that this recording does little to excite or enhance the cause of this period. But before you stop reading let me explain further.

This recording features the soprano Paula Pires de Matos. She has a flexible and tuneful voice which copes, mostly successfully, with the regular challenges of the music but with a vibrato that feels to me to be over prominent. More impressive and almost faultless is the countertenor Mario Marques although he can be too strident. The organ is a typical Iberian snarley monster with great character. If you like harsh reed stops then Seixas’s Sonata in A minor is a joy. The organist Gerhard Doderer plays with too much rubato for my taste but his performances of Scarlatti’s sonatas are very enjoyable.

I have never encountered a recording where the edits between tracks are so ugly and abrupt with chords sometimes cut off before they have finished. Even worse though is the third rate quality of the music, even Teixeira’s Psalm setting is uninspired … which surprised me. Scarlatti shines like a beacon but his ‘Salve Regina’ dating from his Roman years is not his best work. Or is it just a dull performance?

No texts and translations are provided which is unfortunate especially in the case of Sagau’s Cantata with its recits and arias being in Portuguese. The accompanying essay has been well translated but the opening paragraph makes very little sense and the composers are never given.

My advice is that unless this rare repertoire is a particular interest of yours, and then do not take the trouble to track this CD down.

Gary Higginson


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