DECEMBER 2015: Brazilian Adventures | Ex Cathedra & Jeffrey Skidmore | Hyperion CDA68114DECEMBER 2015: Brazilian Adventures | Ex Cathedra & Jeffrey Skidmore | Hyperion CDA68114
By RAY PICOT
When recently asked if I’d like to recommend a suitable seasonal disc it was very simple decision: a superb new recording of the delightful Missa pastoral para noite de natal (Pastoral Mass for Christmas Eve) by the Brazilian, José Maurício Nunes Garcia (1767-1830). The mass is included in a superb choral anthology on an album entitled Brazilian Adventures, performed by Ex Cathedra under the direction of Jeffrey Skidmore. This mass is written in the classical idiom, originally in 1808 for voices and organ, then re-scored three years later for small orchestra, which is the version recorded here. It is sophisticated and well-written music with a simple melodic charm from the outstanding Brazilian-born composer of his time (who was also a priest). The mass has maintained a degree of popularity in Brazil, noting that it was recorded in 1965 by Francisco Mignone, though it gained wider currency after a disc of this composer’s music appeared on the French label K617 in their Pathways of the Baroque series. However, this music is anything but baroque and has a distinctly Mozartian air, perhaps due to delightful woodwind writing and particularly distinctive use of the clarinet lead pastoral theme which is repeated throughout the piece. With imaginative and subtle scoring, Nunes Garcia suffuses his music in a radiant pastoral light that betokens the nativity. The performance is outstanding with a good sense of momentum without hurrying the pace, also featuring excellent soloists. This is a reading I will want to return to and not just at Christmas!
The second major work is in marked contrast to the Nunes Garcia mass, being the Missa a 8 vozes e instrumentos by the Portuguese-born, André da Silva Gomes (1752-1840), who was Master of the Chapel of the Cathedral Church of São Paulo. He is considered to have written music which had a considerable artistic impact at the time, though to my ears his music retains much baroque influence. The mass is a distinctly festive work with prominent brass writing and a flamboyant atmosphere. Once more, the performances are exemplary with outstanding ensemble and solo work.
The masses are preceded and interspersed with a selection of interesting motets, also written in colonial Brazil, underlining the quality and variety of music written during this era, noting that some of the pieces use percussion typical of the native composed dance-inflected music.
This is the fourth exploration of colonial music of South America by Ex Cathedra and Jeffrey Skidmore for Hyperion, and one which maintains their high standard of scholarship and performance. The music has been very well selected and proves once more that there is wealth of distinctive music from colonial South America to explore.
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