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Duarte LOBO (c1565 - 1646)
Masses, Responsories & Motets
Cupertinos/Luís Toscano
Recorded 2019 at the Basilica do Bom Jesus, Braga, Portugal DDD
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as a 16/44 FLAC download with pdf-booklet from Hyperion
HYPERION CDA68306 [70:48]

The music, written on the Iberian peninsula from the early 16th to the first half of the 17th century, is a rich source for vocal ensembles and choirs of our time. Among British choirs especially the Westminster Cathedral choir has made a considerable number of discs with music by, for instance, Victoria and Guerrero, to name two of the most prominent composers of the Spanish renaissance. In comparison, music by Portuguese composers is far less well represented in the catalogue. One of the main reasons is that most of the repertoire from the 16th and 17th centuries was preserved in the library of the royal court in Lisbon. When the city was hit by an earthquake in 1755, this library was destroyed, and as a result only a small proportion of what has been written during the renaissance period has come down to us.

The title of the present disc mentions one of the best-known masters of the Portuguese renaissance: Duarte Lobo, not to be confused with his Spanish namesake Alonso Lobo. Not that much is known about Duarte Lobo. Even the year of his birth is not known, nor the place where he was born. He studied music with Manuel Mendes at the Évora Claustra da Sé, the Cathedral cloister school, where he was a chorister. He became mestro de capela at the Hospital Real, Lisbon and from about 1591 until at least 1639 he was mestro de capela at Lisbon Cathedral. The largest part of his oeuvre was published in four volumes and comprises masses, responsories and Magnificats. Only a few motets have been preserved. Notable is the scoring for eight voices of some of his responsories and masses. One motet is even scored for eleven voices, divided into three choirs.

The fact that many of his compositions were printed and that his oeuvre found a wide dissemination across Europe and in the New World saved it from falling victim to the earthquake, which wiped a substantial part of Portuguese music from Europe's musical map. It is quite remarkable that his music was performed as late as the 18th century in London and in the 19th century in Paris. Duarte Lobo is certainly the best-known of Portuguese composers of the Renaissance, but that does not mean that many recordings are devoted to his oeuvre. ArkivMusic mentions only the present disc, and in addition it lists six further recordings which include pieces by him. That makes the release of this recording all the more important.

Although the frontispiece of this disc doesn't indicate it, the programme focuses on music for Christmastide. One of its main items is a set of eight Christmas Responsories, which have come down to us in separate partbooks preserved in different sources. As is so often the case in Renaissance polyphony, one of the partbooks - the tenor - has been lost. The recording of these fine pieces has been made possible thanks to the reconstruction of the tenor part by José Abreu. Among the texts are some that are well known and have been frequently set in the Renaissance, such as O magnum mysterium, Quem vidistis pastores? and Verbum caro. Many music lovers will know the texture of these pieces from the Tenebrae Responsories by Victoria and Gesualdo. They consist of two sections: respond and verse; after the latter, the second part of the former is repeated. Some responsories are a little longer through the addition of a doxology. Although Lobo worked at a time that elsewhere in Europe a new style had emerged, which required composers to depict words and phrases in their settings, Lobo is firmly rooted in the stile antico. That said, in the course of the 16th century, some composers started to give more attention to the text in their compositions; one of them was Orlandus Lassus. In Lobo's Responsories, one can also find some moments where the text is illustrated in the music, as mentioned in the liner-notes.

The two masses are both of the 'parody' type. This means that a pre-existing composition - a liturgical chant, a motet or a secular vocal piece or tune - is used as the backbone of a mass, giving structure to the work. If a composer used a work by a colleague, this was also intended as a gesture of appreciation. In the case of Lobo, there can be little doubt about his admiration for his Spanish colleague Francesco Guerrero (1528-1599): four of his fifteen extant masses are based on motets by the Spanish master. Another subject of his admiration was Palestrina, as in four other masses he took motets by the Italian as the starting point for his settings. The masses performed here are both based on motets by Guerrero. The opening motifs of the respective motets are used as a kind of signature tune throughout the mass, mostly at the start of a section. As the motets by Guerrero are not included, the listener may not recognize them. In the case of the Missa Sancta Maria it is indicated in the liner-notes as D-C-D-F-E-D, and that makes it rather easy to hear it while listening to this mass.

Cupertinos is a vocal ensemble from Portugal, founded in 2009, with the aim of performing Portuguese renaissance polyphony. This is their second disc for Hyperion; the first, devoted to Manuel Cardoso, has been received very well by the music press. I have not heard it yet, and the present disc was my introduction to the ensemble. I am quite impressed by the singing of Cupertinos. It consists here of ten very fine voices, including that of the director, who is one of the tenors. The voices blend beautifully, and there is a perfect balance between the different voice groups, without the dominance of the upper voices which is so often a hallmark of such ensembles. They also achieve a remarkable transparency; even in the closing item, the eight-part Alma redemptoris mater, the text is clearly intelligible. There is some effective dynamic shading, for instance in the Christmas Responsories, which for me are the discovery of this disc, and which are substantial additions to the repertoire for Christmastide. The acoustic is of great help: the church where the recording took place, has just the spatiality the music needs, without being too reverberant.

In short, this disc offers some fine specimens of Portuguese renaissance polyphony, superbly sung by Cupertinos.

Johan van Veen

Previous reviews: Brian Wilson ~ Gary Higginson

Audivi vocem de caelo a 6 [02:42]
Missa Sancta Maria a 4 [19:33]
[Christmas Responsories a 4]
Hodie nobis caelorum rex [04:32]
Hodie nobis de caelo [01:49]
Quem vidistis pastores? [03:08]
O magnum mysterium [02:39]
Beata Dei genitrix [01:53]
Sancta et immaculata [03:06]
Beata viscera [02:54]
Verbum caro [03:58]
Missa Elisabeth Zachariae a 5 [21:50]
Alma redemptoris mater a 8 [02:12]

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