FEBRUARY 2017 | Romaria: Choral Music from Brazil | Delphian DCD34147FEBRUARY 2017 | Romaria: Choral Music from Brazil | Delphian DCD34147
By JOHN QUINN
Never one to follow slavishly the beaten track, Geoffrey Webber here takes his Gonville & Caius College choir if not into the Amazon rain forests then at least on a Brazilian musical exploration. This programme of mainly twentieth-century Brazilian a cappella choral music – one piece dates from 2009 – is the result of a collaboration between Webber’s choir and the choral department of the University of São Paolo. The music here presented is all very interesting and almost all of it was completely new to me; the exceptions were the two pieces by Villa-Lobos which were included in a Hyperion disc devoted to that composer’s choral music performed by the Corydon Singers and Matthew Best (CDA66638).
Arguably the most exotic piece is Metaphors by the Polish-born Henrique de Curitiba, whose family migrated to Brazil whereupon he adopted a Brazilian name. Here the choir sings variants on a short passage from the Credo of Victoria’s Missa Quarti Toni while at the same time a pre-recorded tape is played. This tape recording consists of the sounds of birds and other wildlife from the rain forests. The original tape has been lost and this performance uses a version reconstructed at the University of São Paolo. The piece is intriguing – especially when heard through headphones – though I wonder if it’s a little too long. Particular mention should be made of the stratospherically high solo soprano part which is fearlessly negotiated by one of the choir; Billie Robson, I think.
The folk song arrangements by Ernst Mahle that follow are much less complicated but very skilful and pleasing. In particular the first one, ‘Jacaré’ is jolly and bouncy while ‘Vamo acabá co’este samba’ (‘Let’s end this samba’), which is sung last, is an exuberant samba, here performed with terrific gusto.
Romaria, which gives the album its title is a setting of a poem about pilgrims (“romeiros”) by the Brazilian, Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987). This piece is unusual in that sizeable sections of the poem are recited rather than sung. The choral passages are attractive. According to Geoffrey Webber’s very informative notes Jubiabá by Carlos Pinto Fonseca shows musical influences that can be traced back to the religious observances of African slaves who were transported to Brazil. Jubiabá is a high priest who presides over a ritual. The piece is very exciting; indeed, it becomes increasingly frenzied and the choral writing is certainly resourceful.
Claudio Santoro’s Ave-Maria, a Portuguese language setting of the familiar prayer has what seem to me to be some surprisingly dark harmonic hues for a setting of this particular text. I’m afraid the music didn’t really speak to me. That’s also true of the Missa breve sobre ritmos populares brasileiros which I didn’t find desperately interesting though I’m sure others will find more in the music than I did.
Moreninha se eu te pedisse (‘Moreninha, if I asked you for a kiss’) is another folksong arrangement. The harmonies are rather unusual and I enjoyed this individual, interesting setting. In complete contrast Nibaldo Araneda’s Ismália is a setting of a terribly sad poem about a woman, Ismália, who goes mad and in death achieves release. This is an intense piece, not least because the harmonies are so dense; it’s an arresting setting.
The two strongest pieces on the programme are those by Villa-Lobos. I don’t believe I’ve reached that verdict because I’ve heard them before; in truth, it’s a long time since I played the aforementioned Corydon Singers disc. The level of invention is higher in these pieces than in the others. Cor dulce, cor amabile is a fluent, beautifully harmonised piece. The Magnificat-Alleluia is the only accompanied piece on the disc; Liam Crangle plays the organ part and I’m sure it’s not his fault that the Girton College Chapel organ doesn’t sound the most exciting instrument one has heard. The canticle text is sung by a mezzo-soprano soloist while the choir interpolates elaborate ‘Alleluias’. Here the soloist is a college alumna, Kate Symonds-Joy, and her rich-toned, expressive singing is just right.
This is a demanding programme and it’s executed with great assurance and conviction by the Choir of Gonville & Caius College. I admire Geoffrey Webber’s enterprise in selecting this collection of music and training his choir to deliver it so well. The music may be a little uneven but it’s all very well worth hearing and chances to experience these pieces are unlikely to be frequent. So, choral collectors with an enquiring mind should snap up this disc. The recording itself is very good and the documentation is excellent.
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