Mozart à Portuguesa

Mozart à Portuguesa
Mozart’s Requiem
(Eborense version)
Americantiga Ensemble, Ricardo Bernardes
São Roque, Lisbon. 6 November 2020 & online

Davide Perez (1711-78) Subvenite sancti dei; Trio in G minor
José Joaquim dos Santos (1747-1801)  Lamentação de Quinta-Feira Santa
Frei Joan de Santa Cruz (1542-1591) Noche oscura
Mozart Requiem (Eborense version)

An interesting live-streamed concert from Portugal caught my eye and ear, with the help of a friend who managed to get there and back to perform just before the UK lockdown. It included a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in an early 19th-century arrangement by composers of Évora Cathedral, alongside pieces by composers of the Lisbon Court such as David Perez and José Joaquim dos Santos. The manuscript of the arrangement is in the archives in Évora, hence the name of the “Eborense version”. The concert was performed live by the Americantiga Ensemble during the 22nd Music Season in São Roque in the São Roque Church, Lisbon, and is available to view via the link below.

What is particularly interesting in these arrangements is the use of the bass instruments alone as accompaniment – cello, two bassoons, contrabass and organ, in this case, an early 18th-century Portugeuse chamber organ in meantone temperament, recently restored by Pedro Guimarães. As well as the distinctive sound of these instruments playing together in support of the singers, there are several moments when individual instruments take on a predominent role, notably the cello. The most notable of these was in the first piece, Subvenite sancti dei by the opera composer Davide Perez (1711-78), with its extended passages for solo cello, played with exqusite sensitivity by Poppy Walshaw. The second piece, the Lamentação de Quinta-Feira Santa by José Joaquim dos Santos (1747-1801) is built on a bass line from the two bassoons played by Mélodie Michel & Nathaniel Harrison. The opening of the sonorous Trio in G by Davide Perez has Nathaniel Harrison’s bassoon weaving a delicate melody above rapid figuration from the cello.

These pieces, and the Mozart Requiem, are examples of a practice in the Lisbon Court around the end of the 18th-century of adapting works for voices and just a continuo bass. The existing parts are in different hands, so it is not clear if they represent a record of a single performance, or are drawn from different arrangers. They have been edited for performance by the director of the Americantiga Ensemble, Ricardo Bernardes. The instrumental writing is often virtuosic, an indication of the quality of the musician of the Court. In the Requiem, the organ, played by Catarina Sousa, takes on a more audible role, both in reinforcing the sound of the other bass instruments and in its own accompaniments. As in the earlier pieces, Poppy Walshaw’s cello has a prominent and often virtuosic role. I was also impressed with Mélodie Michel’s bassoon playing.

The Mozart Requiem had only just become known in Portugal before this chamber arrangement was made. Apart from the revalation of the continuo bass accompaniment, hearing it sung by just four solo voices opens up a completely different sound world to that we are used to. The four singers are Mariana Castello-Branco, Arthur Filemon, Marcio Soares Holanda and
Tiago Daniel Mota (SATB). They cope with the technical and musical demands of their very exposed singing roles very well, with tenor Marcio Soares Holanda in particular having some fine solo moments.

The São Roque music festival require that the music is interspersed with spoken words, here with poetry and texts from the Bible and by classic authors which, particularly for non-Portugeuse speakers, does rather break the flow of the music, particularly in the Requiem. I hope the links to the live concert remain open for as long as possible. It is also available to view on the Americantiga website here.