Thursday, 16 July 2015

Romaria: Choral Music from Brazil

Romaria - Choral Music from Brazil - Delphian
Romaria Choral Music from Brazil, Osvaldo Lacerda, Carlos A. Pinto Fonseca, Ernani Aguiar, Jose Antonio de Almeida Prado, Claudio Santoro, Nibaldo Araneda, Aylton Escobar, Heitor Villa-Lobos; Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, Geoffrey Webber; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 11 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Brilliant exploration of modern choral music from Brazil

Having explored the music of the early Celtic church where to go next? This new disc from Geoffrey Webber and the Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge on the Delphian label starts with one of those wtf moments. Put the disc into player and what comes on on track one is the sound of the Brazilian rainforest only to be overlaid with polyphony by Victoria. Welcome to Romaria, the lively world of modern Brazilian choral music. The opening work is Metaphors by Henrique de Curitiba and the disc goes on to explore music by Osvaldo Lacerda, Carlos A. Pinto Fonseca, Ernani Aguiar, Jose Antonio de Almeida Prado, Claudio Santoro, Nibaldo Araneda, and Aylton Escobar, with only Heitor Villa-Lobos being at all well known.

Henrique de Curitiba (1934-2008) wrote Metaphors for choir and playback tape in 1973, the full title is "Metaphors" on an "Et Incarnatus est" by T.L.Victoria for 6 voices a capella stye and ad libitum with a play-back scenario with sounds of wind, insects, birds and batraquia [frogs] from Brazilian woods. He uses a passage from Victoria's Missa Quarti Toni which is subjected to a variety of treatments, which are combined with the sounds of the Amazonian rainforest. Unfortunately the composer's original tape is lost, but what we hear is a reconstruction by Denise Hiromi Aoki from the University of Sao Paolo. And the results are astonishing, intriguing and pure 1970's.

The disc is the result of a collaboration between the Choir of Gonville and Caius College and the choral department of the University of Sao Paolo. Thanks to the help of Prof. Marco Antonio da Silva Ramos and Dr Igayara, a wealth of 20th and 21st century choral talent has been revealed.

Carimbo is a suite of folksongs from Para which were arranged by German born Ernst Mahle (born 1928), who took Brazilian nationality in 1962. We hear five of the nine movements, Jacare, Lavadeira, Siriri, O Pau Rolou and Vamo acab co'este samba. These are by turns lively, lyrical, catchy and rhythmic and the singers certainly seem to catch the mood. The disc's title track is Romaria by Osvaldo Lacerda (1927-2011), a setting from 1967 of words by Carlos Drummond de Andrade which explores the popular Brazilian culture of pilgrimage. Lacerda's setting mixes spoken sections, delivered by Marco Antonio da Silva Ramos, with sung ones. The descriptive choral sections have hints of the popular in their rhythms, but the main musical texture is sober, with some serious choral writing.

Jubiaba by Carlos A. Pinto Fonseca (1933-2006) dates from 1963 and reflects the dance ceremonies from the Candomble region. It is a short piece, full of strong contrasts and strong rhythms. By contrast Antiquae Preces Christianae by Ernani Aguiar (born 1950) from 1976 is full of intriguing textures and serious intent. The three prayers are Gloria patri, Rector potens (an Office Hymn at Sext) and Te lucis ante terminum (an Office Hymn at Compline). Fonseca's settings are rather dark at times, but full of powerful moments.

Cor dulce, cor amabile by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is sung in a new edition produced for the recording. It is a short, serious motet which has a rather highly structured, Bachian feel to the music.

Jose Antonio de Almeida Prado (1943-2010) sets a piece of Virgil in his 1974 piece Oraculo, which combines a rather traditional structured polyphony with note clusters. Ave Maria by Claudio Santoro (1919-1989) is rather austere and builds to quite climax with a striking use of dissonance. Though most of the composers on the disc were based in Brazil for much of their composing life, many studied in Europe (Santoro and Prado both studied with Nadia Boulanger, and Prado studied with Ligeti in Darmstadt) and so this brings an intriguing mix to many of the works.

Next comes Prof. da Silva Ramos's arrangement of Moreninha se eu te pedisse a folk-song from the south east of Brazil. It is rather a sober piece, but with a melodic thread running through it. Ismalia by Nibaldo Araneda (born 1968) is the most recent composition on the disc and was composed in 2009 for the 15th anniversary of the Chorus of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra. It is rather an appealing piece, with some complex and very powerful polyphony.

Missa breve sobre ritmos populares brasileiros by Aylton Escobar (born 1943) was written in 1964 and mixes the standard form of the mass with traditional Brazilian musical idioms so that the Kyrie opens with a Gregorian-type chant which turns into a modinha. But the result is a synthesis, rather than something obviously popular. It is full of intriguing rhythms and very edgy textures and harmonies. Rather serious and sober, there are catchy moments such as the Hosanna, finishing with a rather lovely Agnus Dei.

For the last work on the disc we return to Villa-Lobos, his Magnificat-Alleluia  which is performed in the composer's own version with organ (played by Liam Crangle, who also sings in the choir). There is a big mezzo-soprano solo which is sung by Kate Symonds-Joy who studied at Gonville and Caius College. Her voice, recorded relatively closely, has developed into a mature instrument with an element of vibrato which I found rather too much of a contrast with the choir.

Under conductor Geoffrey Webber, the 25 singers in the choir (women and men, with a mixture on the alto line) make a lovely clear focussed sound, with the sopranos in particular having a strength and clarity to them which evoked sometimes the sound of trebles. This lovely clear sound is combined with great rhythmic energy and some real enjoyment comes across in the music.

There is some fascinating music on this disc, and I do hope that the disc sparks some interest in the ce obviously lively choral scene in Brazil. We must hope that the music is also going to become available for choirs.

You can hear the choir singing the repertoire from the disc live at their concert at the Kings Place Festival on Saturday 12 September 2015.

Henrique de Curitiba (1934-2008) - Metaphors [8.14]
arr. Ernst Mahe (born 1929) - Carimbo [6.28]
Osvaldo Lacerda (1927-2011) - Romaria [4.31]
Carlos A. Pinto Fonseca (1933-2006) - Jubiaba [3.31]
Ernani Aguiar (born 1950) - Antiquae Preces Christianae [5.23]
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) - Cor dulce, cor amabile [3.19]
JA de Almeida Prado (1943-2010) - Oraculo [3.40]
Claudio Santoro (1919-1989) - Ave Maria [3.26]
arr MA da Silva Ramos (born 1950) - Moreninha se eu te pedisse [3.25]
Nibaldo Araneda (born 1968) - Ismalia [3.57]
Aylton Escobar (born 1943) - Missa breve sobre ritmos populares basileiros [17.32]
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) - Magnificat-Alleluia [7.00]
Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
Geoffrey Webber (director)
Kate Symonds-Joy (mezzo-soprano)
Liam Crangle (organ)
Marco Antonio da Silva Ramos (narrator)
Recorded 3-5 July 2014 in the Chapel of Girton College, Cambridge
DELPHIAN DCD34147 1CD [70.48]

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