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Duarte LOBO (1565-1646)
Masses and motets
Audivi vocem de caelo [2:31]
Missa Sancta Maria [19:33]
Christmas Responsories a 4 - Hodie nobis caelorum rex [4:32]
Hodie nobis de caelo [1:49]
Quem vidistis pastores [3:08]
O magnum mysterium [2:39]
Beata Dei genetrix [1:53]
Sancta et immaculate [3:06]
Beata viscera [2:54]
Verbum caro [3:58]
Missa Elisabeth Zachariae [21:50]
Alma Redemptoris mater [2:12]
Cupertinos/Luis Toscano
rec. 2019, Basilica do Bom Jesus, Braga, Portugal
HYPERION CDA68306 [70:16]

At the risk of sounding like a schoolmaster, let me explain about the Lobos. Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) was Spanish working in Seville, who wrote a well-known set of Lamentations. Duarte Lobo, Portuguese, was possibly the greater of the two. His music has almost stayed in the repertoire even in the eighteenth century and in the so-called New World.

Choirs and record companies have never really ignored Portuguese polyphony but Cupertinos, whose second CD this is, are making a particular specialisation of what is a vast deposit of manuscripts dotted around the country. Their director Luis Toscano has been awarded a governmental grant to research, edit and perform seventeenth-century Portuguese music. Duarte Lobo is an ideal starting point, although their first disc of music by Cardoso (CDA 68252) was a Gramophone Award winner.

The disc presents two motets, a group of Responsories for the Christmas season and two Masses, and are all of a high quality. Let us begin with the motets: the disc opens with one of Lobo’s most performed, a ravishing six-part setting of Audivi vocem de caelo, and ends with a truncated, no notes-wasted version of the Marian hymn Alma redemptoris mater.

The eight Responsories in four parts can be heard as following the sequence of the Christmas story. Starting with the joy of the day (Hodie nobis caelorum rex) later, the visit of the shepherds (Quem vidistis pastoris) and then reflections on the incarnation and the virgin birth (Beata Viscera and Verbum Caro – the word made flesh). Each responsary consists of a Response, followed by a verse and then the last line of the respond called a Presa. Numbers 3,6, and 8 also have a Gloria patri, which comes before the Presa. For textural variety, some sections will be in three parts. These works were not performable until the missing tenor part was reconstructed by Josť Abreu (who with conductor Luis Toscano has compiled the excellent booklet essay). These works were published in 1602 in a collection called Opuscula; it also included a mass and some eight-part Christmas Responsories.

The two recorded masses, both published in a collection of 1621, are also suitable for the Advent/Christmas season. They are remarkably compact, far less prolix than the masses of the generation earlier in the sixteenth century. They are both parody masses: they are based on, and use, passages of melody and harmony from a motet. In the case of the Missa Sancta Maria, the motet is by the much-loved Spaniard Francisco Guerrero. If possible, Cupertinos should have presented the motet before the mass but this disc is already well filled. Certain portions of the text, like the Et incarnatus and the Crucifixus are set homophonically. They contrast with the warmth of the not too melismatic polyphony, illuminating the words of the council of Trent in the 1560s (when it was pointed out that the music is meant to “express the words and should not be for the empty pleasure of the ear”). Ideally Cupertinos should have developed an even more piano tone quality for passages like that, and had more of a thought for the possible alternation of dynamics. The climax of the mass, the Agnus II, goes into a rich 6-part texture with a complex canon; I will leave that for your own discovery.

The Missa Elisabeth Zachariae also has the eponymous Guerrero motet as its basis. Lobo’s imagination in the diverse and nuanced use of its rising opening motif and its Alleluia section – sometimes even combing them – is, we are told, quite remarkable. Sadly, the motet is not recorded here but can be found on YouTube. It is also worth listening to the opening ten seconds or so of each of the mass sections to hear how the composer varies his material.

Cupertinos make a thrilling sound. Ten names are listed and, interestingly, Luis Toscano is one of only two tenors. How rare and wonderful it is to have this music sung by a Portuguese group. True, recordings of Cardoso by the Tallis Scholars and pieces by his contemporaries recorded by, say, Westminster Cathedral Choir are always a joy. Here, however, we have a slightly different sound, open, fresh, pure in tone and bright. The vowels are coloured in a way that only an Iberian group could have achieved. Also pleasing is that the CD runs to 66 tracks. This may well be particularly helpful for students; small sections of the Responsories and Masses can be studied in detail if need be. The Missa Sancta Maria is allotted sixteen, for example, and Sancta et immaculate is given six. This is very forward thinking of Hyperion and Luis Toscano.

The other contributor to the beauty and lucidity of the sound is the acoustic of the Basilica in Braga, wonderfully captured by the Hyperion team. The booklet has a quite detailed essay by Toscano and Josť Arbreu, and some black-and-white reproductions of pages from the original printed editions. The texts are clearly printed and translated.

Gary Higginson

Previous review: Brian Wilson

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