Ay, Portugal - Music from the Renaissance to the New World - 16th and 17th Century Music from Portugal and Spain
Gaspar FERNANDES (c.1570-1629) Eso rigor e reprente [3.08]; Tieycantimo choquiliya [3.46]; Xicochi conetzintle [3.17]; Botay fora [4.47]
Manuel MACHADO (c.1590-1646) Afuera, afuera que sale; [2.24]; Dos estrellas la siguen [3.33]
Pedro de CRISTO (c.1540-1618) Ay mi Dios[2.03]
Francesco GUERRERO (1526-1599) Los Reyes siguen la’strella [2.46]; Qué buen ano es ei del çielo [1.54]; Niño dios d’amor herido [2.22]
Luis de MILAN (c.1500-1561) Fantasia VIII [3.05]
Pedro de ESCOBAR (c.1485-1535) Pásame per Dios, barquero [2.42]
ANON from the Canciones Masson 56 (1523): Nos meprugunteis a mis males [3.17]; Y nam quero ser pastora [3.55]; Vos señora, a maltratarme [1.48]; Näo tragais borzeguis pretos [3.06]; Dipues vienes delhaldea [2.21]
Siobhan Stagg (soprano)
La Compañia/Danny Lucin
rec. St. Fidelis, Moreland, Melbourne, Australia, November-December 2011
ABC CLASSICS 476 4955 [50.20]

In the 16th century Portugal was one of the leading nations of the world as far as exploration was concerned and indeed in the Sciences as well as the Arts. As Michael McNab’s well set-out and clear booklet notes tell us, in August 1578 King Sebastiao I was killed in battle along with most of the nobility. As a consequence Portugal was annexed into the Iberian Kingdom of Spain under Philip II. Many of country’s indigenous artists vanished into the South American kingdoms. Others became part of a conservative backwater, continuing to compose in the ‘stile antico’, as did Pedro de Cristo as heard on Hyperion CDA66512 Masterpieces of Portuguese Polyphony.
This CD does not consist of sad music reflecting on past glories. Hispanic syncopated rhythms, flexible and dance-like and especially associated with South American church music, can be heard on this CD. They are helped on their way with a liberal presence of colourful percussion. Other groups have successfully tackled this repertoire as well. I especially like another Hyperion disc recorded by Ex Cathedra, Fire Burning in Snow (CDA67600) but there are any number of other possibilities.
Of the seventeen tracks providing the somewhat measly playing time offered, only eight are for the gorgeous voice of Siobhan Stagg - very pure, versatile and rich. Despite her Irish name she, like this excellent group - La Compañia - are Australian and are making a name for themselves in that country in the early music world. Despite that however several pieces which could have had sung text of the type found in Machado’s beautiful Dos estrella le siguen have the substitute of Danny Lucin’s cornetto playing. This is the next best thing to the human voice as it was often said at the time, especially when the instrument is played so musically and with such beautifully shaped phrasing. Even better is when both Lucin (who directs the ensemble) and Stagg mix as in Escobar’s Pásame per Dios. He breaks up the six verses with a solo passage and then for the second half plays a descant over the voice. A down-side to Stagg’s performance is that although I am no real expert her Portuguese does not seem to be especially clear and her Spanish, which I know much more of, is distinctly inconsistent. That said, I loved her voice and have twice gone to sleep with her and it, as it were, ringing in my ears on a stereo unit in the room.
Let me select a few other favourite highlights. There is some lovely solo wind section playing throughout. I especially enjoyed Guerrero’s Niño Dios d’amor herido. It’s often the anonymous songs that felt so pleasing largely because they are simple and affecting. Their folk-like melodies have an instant attraction. In this category I would place Yan am quero ser pastora which speaks of Titian-style lovers placed in a lovely idealised pastoral locale. This song is in fact a villancico, a very popular form that can be used for sacred or secular compositions. The form is “generally ABA with several stanzas” (McNab) “but which display a good deal of flexibility ... in how often the refrain is used”. A good example is another lovely anonymous pastoral setting Dispues vienes delhaldea.
There is five-part villancico by the still all-too-little-known, but rather original, Gaspar Fernandes entitled Tieycantimo chocquiliya which uses a creole text. Note the snazzy Lombardic rhythms reminding us that some of this music was heard outside church for dancing and dramatic entertainments and at festivals like Christmas. This piece is played instrumentally as is Fernandes’ Xicochi conetzintie which is the Nauhati language of the south American Nahua peoples. Pity we don’t get to hear this unusual language in performance. As in the previous piece, percussion is strongly used as are instruments like the cavaquinho. The group also add the related vihuela and/or a guitar. Wind instruments are employed as they were at the time even in church. These include the sackbut and dulcian which is a sort of bassoon which was especially popular.
The booklet and the disc are within a compact cardboard casing with that excellent essay. Composer biographies and photos are present and correct as well as texts that are well translated into English alongside the original. The recording is clear and intimate and well balanced. Good fun throughout.
Gary Higginson 

Pleasing, evocative performances of a charming and haunting repertoire.

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