Wednesday 4 April 2018

Manuel Cardoso from Girton College Cambridge

Cardoso - Choir of Girton College - Toccata Classics
Manuel Cardoso Missa Secundi Toni, Magnificats and Motets; Choir of Girton College, Cambridge, Historic Brass of the Royal Academy of Music, Gareth Wilson; Toccata Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 Mar 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Combining choir and historic brass, this second disc from Girton explores Portuguese polyphony from the 17th century

This disc is the second of Gareth Wilson and the choir of Girton College, Cambridge's collaborations on Toccata Classics with an historic brass ensemble, this time the Historic Brass of the Royal Academy of Music. Their first disc gave us Lassus's five-voice Requiem [see my review] on this new disc we get Manuel Cardoso's Missa Secundi Toni along with his Magnificat Octavi Toni, Magnificat Secundi Toni and motets, by Cardoso, De Brito, Magalhaes and Morago. The programme was assembled for a tour of Portugal, and Gareth Wilson's selection of motets emphasised a feminine theme entirely appropriate to Girton's origins as an all-women college.

Listening to Cardoso's Missa Secundi Toni, which was probably published in 1636, it is difficult to believe that Monteverdi's Vespers were published nearly 30 years earlier. This is music written firmly in the prima prattica, with contrapuntal writing firmly in the style of Palestrina, but it is allied to a sense of harmony which is very distinctive. In fact, despite Cardoso's rather more Baroque harmonic style, this music has a great sense of harmony and serenity.

The Carmelite Convent in Lisbon where Cardoso work (ruined in the 1755 earthquake)
The Carmelite Convent in Lisbon where Cardoso work
(ruined in the 1755 earthquake) - Photo Georges Jansoone
The reason for this apparent conservativeness is that Portugal was under Spanish rule until 1640, and the more traditional forms of musical style in sacred music were an important cultural link with the era before Spanish rule. Perhaps also there is an element here of Portugal's relative geographic isolation.

The choir (25 voices) and instrumental ensemble (six cornetts & sacbuts plus organ) respond to the music's particular qualities with a lovely gentle tonal palate. The young voices in the choir make a light, bright sound and the lack of edge suits the music well, and in most of the music (a few of the motets are unaccompanied), they are admirably supported by the instruments which add an interesting range of colours. That is not to say that the music is performed with a boring blandness, and the style of performance includes a nice sense of vibrancy in the line. The recording is relatively distant with a strong sense of the acoustic, this performance very much places the listener firmly in the nave of the chapel rather than the tendency with many modern recordings to give a sense of sitting right on top of the choir. Perhaps the odd detail is fuzzier than on some recordings, but the style has perfect validity and does suit the music.

The programme opens with Cardoso's Magnificat Octavi Toni and ends with his Magnificat Quinti Toni and Magalhaes' Commissa mea pavesco, in between we get Cardoso's Missa Secundi Toni interspersed with motets, some sung unaccompanied by the choir and some played just by the instruments, along with a pair of organ pieces. The result is a highly evocative disc.

Cardoso's mass and Magnificats are first recordings, which is impressive in itself, and this disc is a fine achievement. Gareth Wilson and his team bring out the very particular quality of Portuguese polyphony of the period, in performances which combine tonal variety with a sense of the serenity of Cardoso's idiom.

CARDOSO Magnificat Octavi Toni
DE BRITO Sancta Maria
MORAGO Commissa mea pavesco
CARDOSO Missa Secundi Toni
CARDOSO Ecce mulier Chananea
ANON. Obra de Segundo Tom
CARDOSO Aquam quam ego dabo
CARDOSO Sitivit anima mea
CARDOSO Non mortui
ANON. Passo de Segundo Tom
CARDOSO Magnificat Octavi Toni
MAGALHÃES Commissa mea pavesco
The Choir of Girton College, Cambridge
Historic Brass of the Royal Academy of Music (Jeremy West, leader)
Lucy Morrell (organ)
Gareth Wilson (director)
Recorded 13-16 Juy 2017, Ushaw College, Dublin
Available from Amazon.

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  • The Guardian Angel: voices and violin in concert (★★★★) - concert review
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