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