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
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
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.