Notes and Editorial Reviews
Luiz Alves da Silva, cond; Mathias Weibel, cond; Ens TURICUM (period instruments)
PARATY 209.108 (2 CDs: 91:53)
In recent months, I have had the pleasure of reviewing a number of fine new recordings spotlighting the richness of 18th century music from South America, a richness particularly evident in the interaction between native and European elements evident in some of that repertoire. Marcos Portugal’s
Matinas do Natal
example of music that, while written in South America, is thoroughly European in character, attractively and stylishly presented in this two-CD recording by Switzerland’s Ensemble TURICUM.
Marcos António da Fonseca Portugal was born in Lisbon in 1762 and worked as a church musician for the early part of his professional life. He spent the years 1792-1800 in Italy, where his operas earned him renown from Brazil to Russia, before returning to Lisbon to continue a successful career as a composer of works for both church and stage. The Portuguese court of Prince Regent (and later King) John VI relocated to Rio de Janiero in 1808, and in 1811 the king summoned Portugal to Brazil to teach music to his children and serve as a court composer, and he would remain in Brazil until his death in 1830.
Marcos Portugal was one of a significant number of musicians that relocated to Brazil in the service of John VI. The Prince Regent loved pomp and festivity, and insisted on music of a grand scale for his religious observances. The music for Christmas Matins of 1811 was one of the first pieces Portugal composed in Rio, and is scored for an orchestra that does not include violins. The same scoring was used by native-born Brazilian composer José Mauricio Nuñes Garcia (1767-1830) for his
, most probably written for the same Christmas celebration (recorded by Ensemble TURICUM on the K167 label).
The eight responsories that make up the music for Matins (usually sung the night before Christmas) are good examples of Portugal’s style, heavily influenced by the conventions of late 18th-century Italian opera. Much of the music is pleasant and not particularly memorable, with a few exceptions, including the delightful recurring patter of “Quem caeli capere” in the sixth responsory and the lovely “Beata quae credidit” in the fifth, featuring the supple and warmly resonant tone of soprano Martina Fausch. Countertenors Javier Robledano and Jan Thomer both offer a bold, focused, and full-bodied sound that is too often missing in the countertenor world. Portugal’s vocal writing tends toward the florid and demanding, and the precision of the vocal lines is on more than one occasion obscured by the wide vibrato of the soloists.
In both the score and this recording, the brightest lights are in the orchestra. Portugal’s orchestration is colorful and creative, making the most of the forces he had at his disposal. Clarinetists Pierre-André Taillard and Tomoko Ferraino often take center stage, and their playing is well worth the price of the album, effortlessly virtuosic and spanning the gamut from gentle crooning to bold clarion calls. Bruno Procopio’s obbligato organ solos are light, clear, and penetrating, performed on a copy by Giorgio Carli of the anonymous ‘ad Ala’ organ now housed at the Osimo Cathedral.
The soundstage is particularly wide and deep, which makes for an exceptionally clear and precise recording. The choir’s sound is well blended, in contrast to the tight, almost sterile, clarity of each instrument’s individual sound, which creates an almost surreal intimacy, bringing the ensemble’s formidable attention to small details, down to the gleefully biting spiccato of the strings, into sharp focus. My only real complaint about this album is the conspicuous absence of texts and translations in the liner notes, a disappointing blemish on an otherwise rewarding and insightful project.
FANFARE: Henry Lebedinsky
Works on This Recording
Matinos do Natal, for 6 voices & orchestra by Marcos Portugal
Date of Recording: 03/2009
Venue: Erlöserkirche Zurich, Switzerland
Length: 86 Minutes 37 Secs.
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