Joćo Rodrigues ESTEVES (c1700 - after 1751)
Missa a 8 [26:51]
Pinguis est panis, motet for 2 voices and bc* [4:26]
Hodie nobis caelorum Rex [5:17]
Hodie nobis de caelo [3:20]
Quem vidistis pastores dicite [4:57]
O magnum mysterium [4:30]
Beata Dei genitrix [3:35]
Sancta et immaculata [5:58]
Beata viscera Mariae virginis [3:26]
Verbum caro factum est [5:34]
Andrew Carwood (tenor)*, Mike McCarthy (bass)*
Christ Church Cathedral Choir/Stephen Darlington; David Goode, Philip Millward (organ)
rec. 25-27 November 1996, Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire, UK. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5516 [68:06]
In the liner-notes for this disc Ivan Moody writes that "it took longer in the Iberian peninsula than almost anywhere else (...) for the love of Renaissance contrapuntal artifice to give way to a completely Italianate secunda prattica". This in itself isn't untrue, but also a little one-sided. First of all, our picture of Portuguese music in the 17th and early 18th century is very incomplete, due to the earthquake which hit Lisbon in 1755. It destroyed the archives of the royal court which was a rich source of Portuguese music of the previous centuries. Secondly, religious music tells only one part of the story of Portuguese music. 'Baroque music' was certainly written, but sacred music was generally more conservative than secular works. That wasn't a Portuguese specialty, though: various Italian composers wrote sacred music in a style which wasn't fundamentally different from the music by Esteves which is performed on this disc. Examples are Alesssandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) and later Giovanni Giorgi (?-1762).
Two things these composers have in common: they made use of classical polyphony but at the same time incorporated elements of baroque expression. On this disc that is particularly the case in the Christmas Responsories. The Agnus Dei of the Missa a 8 contains some dissonances. The second element is the use of the technique of cori spezzati. This is mostly associated with Venice, but music for double choir was also frequently written in Rome and on the Iberian peninsula. This was often applied to create an antiphonal effect in which one choir imitates the motifs of the other. This effect is particularly audible in the Christmas Responsories and the Gloria and Credo from the Missa a 8.
Very little is known about Esteves. He was mestre de capela of Lisbon Cathedral in the first half of the 18th century. It is very likely that he studied in Rome, and this influenced his style of composing. The duet for two voices and basso continuo is very much in the style of the Italian sacred concerto. One hundred compositions by Esteves are known, found in various archives in Portugal. This suggests that his music was quite popular. It is not known when Esteves died. It is assumed he could have been one of the victims of the earthquake as his name doesn't appear in the records of the Cathedral in the following years.
The Christ Church Cathedral Choir delivers a beautiful reading of Esteves' music. One could argue that, with its 34 voices, it is too large. The number of trebles - 18 - makes it also a bit top-heavy. That said, the solemn character of the mass comes off very well, and expression in the Responsories is certainly not absent. Several passages are scored for reduced forces, in particular the verses. These are performed by solo voices from the choir which is certainly right. The soloists do a fine job, and that includes the two trebles Daniel Collins and Henry Bennett. Among the others we find some well-known names, like Andrew Carwood and Giles Underwood. Stephen Darlington makes a distinction between the mass and the responsories: in the latter the baroque style manifests itself more clearly than in the mass, and that is reflected by the articulation and the dynamic accents. The latter are clearly discernible, but never exaggerated. All pieces have a basso continuo part, played at two organs, one per choir. They should have been more clearly audible.
The booklet includes the lyrics with an English translation. Unfortunately the translation of Beata viscera Mariae (Maria, according to the booklet) is wrong and is more or less the same as that of Beata Dei genitrix. At the service of those who have purchased this disc this is the correct translation:
Blessed is the womb of the Virgin Mary,
that bore the son of the everlasting Father:
and blessed are the breasts which gave suck to Christ the Lord:
Who as on this day did vouchsave to be born of the Virgin for the salvation of the world.
A holy day has dawned for us;
come, nations, come and worship the Lord.
It is a little blot on a fine production with delightful performances of some treasures from the Portuguese musical heritage.
Johan van Veen
Delightful performances of some treasures from the Portuguese musical heritage.