Missa Sancta Maria & Missa Elisabeth Zacharias
Recorded: 24-26 July 2019 at the Basilica de Bom Jesu, Braga, Portugal
Reviewed by: David Truslove
Reviewed: September 2020
CD No: HYPERION CDA68306
Duration: 70 minutes
This appears to be the first recording devoted exclusively to the Portuguese composer Duarte Lobo (c.1565-1646) since The Tallis Scholars issued his Requiem and Missa vox clamantis in 1992. Not to be confused with his near-contemporary and Spanish polyphonist Alonso Lobo, Duarte Lobo was chapel master at the Cathedral in Lisbon, enjoyed the patronage of King John IV of Portugal and became the most widely performed Portuguese composer of his time. Thanks to the musicologist José Abreu, Hyperion’s release includes premieres of two Masses and a selection of Christmas Responsories – works once thought to have been destroyed in the calamitous earthquake that struck Lisbon in 1755.
Now, award-winning Portuguese ensemble Cupertinos has turned its attention to this neglected composer. Four collections of Lobo’s works, including numerous settings of the Magnificat and Mass, were published in Antwerp during his lifetime, with one anthology housed in Oxford’s Bodleian Library from 1659.
Lobo’s craftsmanship and Abreu’s scholarship impresses, but I remain unconvinced about some of the singing from the group’s ten voices despite flawless intonation and ensemble and an obvious admiration for this music. The singers produce a distinctively bright sound, and while one cannot find fault with their bell-like clarity, one or two upper voices inhabit a narrow expressive range which sometimes makes for an unyielding sound.
Without doubt the real joy belongs to the two Masses. Except for its two ‘Christe’ sections, the four-voice Missa Sancta Maria appears to be an off-the-peg number in its polyphony and conventional harmonic language. But the unexpected close to the second of the two ‘Agnus Dei’ settings confounds with its arresting yet thrilling dissonance. A welcome change of pace in the ‘Credo’ heightens the drama of the Crucifixion and brings relief from an otherwise stolid delivery, dance rhythms in the ‘Osanna’ passages failing to lift off the page.
If the Missa Elisabeth Zachariae offers little in the way of harmonic surprise, it is the more appealing work, Cupertinos clearly enjoying its mellifluous five-part textures with a more relaxed engagement. Rhythms now seem to swing, and the whole performance is less earnest and generates a warmer, more rewarding tone. Eight recently published and attractive Christmas Responsories, with alternating metres and contrasting polyphony/homophony, are given a suitably animated response. Finally, the Advent motet ‘Alma Redemptoris Mater’ is an all too brief display of Lobo’s skill with eight voices. Well-worth investigating.