Brazilian Adventures – Ex Cathedra

Brazilian Adventures
Ex Cathedra
, Jeffrey Skidmore
Hyperion CDA68114. 77’46

José Maurício Nunes Garcia: Missa pastoril para a noite de natal;
André da Silva Gomes: Missa a 8 vozes e instrumentos;
José Joaquim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita: Padre nosso, Ave Maria, Gloria;
Luís Álvares Pinto: Beata virgo, Oh! Pulchra es, Lição de solfejo;
Theodoro Cyro de Souza: Ascendit Deus; Anon: Matais de incêndios

I vividly remember a concert that Ex Cathedra gave in London about 10 years ago when they performed music by the Bolivian composer Juan de Araujo. At the time, a number of groups had been exploring South American music of the baroque ere, but Ex Cathedra was the only one that really seemed to understand it. One group preceded their concert with a talk by a South American specialist who spoke enthusiastically about the use of percussion instruments, and then proceeded with a concert with no percussion at all! The sensitive and musical use of percussion was one of the many aspects of the music that Ex Cathedra got exactly right. However percussion doesn’t get as much of a look as in their earlier concerts, or related CDs.

A reflection of those earlier Ex Cathedra takes on South American music can be heard on tracks 1 and 22 of this CD, and the delightfully catchy anonymous 17th century villancico: Matais de incêndio, the earliest known example of Brazilian polyphony. It predates the pieces on the rest of the CD by some time, and the shift of style is particularly prominent at the start of the CD, as the first four verses of Matais de incêndio are treated as a prelude segueing into the Kyrie of José Maurício Nunes Garcia’s Missa pastoril para a noite de natal, with its distinctive opening clarinet solo (the first of many). This is one of two complete Mass settings on this CD. It was composed in 1808, and is firmly in the Classical style. Originally for choir and organ, Garcia reworked and orchestrated the piece in 1811 for pairs of violas, cellos, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, horns, together with timpani and organ. It is gently pastoral in nature, as befits Christmas performance.

The Missa a 8 vozes e instrumentos by André da Silva Gomes is a more flamboyant and dramatic work. Composed in 1785, it reflects a transitional style between Baroque and Classical, with a particularly rousing trumpet-laden Gloria. The rest of the CD is made up of shorter pieces, providing gentler contrast and interpolations to the Mass settings.

Practically all of the 12 singers of Ex Cathedra have challenging solo spots, every one of them producing an excellent sound and a clear understanding of such performance aspects as ornamentation. The chorus is similarly excellent. Jeffrey Skidmore is one of the most inspirational directors around, and his motivation produces extraordinary results. South American music is clearly something of a personal passion, and the programme note reflects his many travels and meetings with musicians there. He states that “The programme is a tribute to the many musicians I met on my travels and to the army of musicologists who are seeking diligently and passionately to bring this music to the world’s attention. They believe it is important and has an urgent relevance if their country is to find its true spiritual and musical soul.” If that is not reason enough to buy this CD, then the inspiring music and outstanding performances certainly should be.

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