A Brazilian Christmas
Birmingham Town Hall
4 starts ****
Review: Paul & David Gray
Music in the classical style with a twist of lemon
Building on previous explorations of South American Baroque Music, Ex Cathedra now bring us a fascinating insight into Brazilian Music mainly from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.
This is music which sounds familiar but with a novel, eclectic twist. We start with Matais de Incêndios by Lesbio, a piece from the late 17th C , although with a dance like, percussive accompaniment and spare harmonies, it could almost be medieval. Next an orchestral introduction involving two baroque flutes and a chamber organ which combine to create a reedy texture reminiscent of panpipes. This is music in the Classical style, but not as we know it. Then, within a moment, we are in the opera house listening to a soprano singing coloratura against a chorus of men in what could almost be an extract from a Rossini Opera.
For this concert Jeffrey Skidmore utilises a pocket sizes choir of soloists and a handful of orchestral players. A slightly strange mix of instruments creates a surprisingly well balanced and blended ensemble and provides a range of colours for some, frequently stunning, obligato passages. The singers all excel in their solo passages but, again, blend perfectly, as a choir and when duetting together.
The first half of the concert is dominated by movements from Garcia’s Mass Missa pastoral para a noite de natal, punctuated by delicious, short motets by Mesquita. This is gloriously sunny music, characterised by dance like rhythms and infectious melody. The largely homophonic compositional technique and absence of counterpoint results in a feeling of freshness and simplicity. Although there is a lack of development, Garcia repeatedly brings back the tranquil pastoral music in tripla time from the Kyrie as a ritornello to lend a sense of structural unity to the music.
This ritornello technique is also used by De Castro Lobo in his Matinas de natal, of which the lengthy second half of the concert was entirely comprised. Sadly, this is music which lacks the strength and distinction of Garcia, and the seemingly endless repetition becomes somewhat monotonous until the final two movements. These are more invigorating due to imaginative, well coloured writing in the orchestra, with stirrings of fugato; a welcome relief from the homophonic texture which predominated. This gave the players a chance to display considerable virtuosity.
Jeffrey Skidmore, as always, a quietly commanding presence on the podium.
Conductor: Jeffrey Skidmore
Ex Cathedra Consort & Baroque Orchestra
Soprani: Elizabeth Adams, Louise Prickett, Susannah Vango, Amy Wood
Alti: Leonora Dawson-Bowling, Sacha Fullerton
Tenori: Paul Bentley-Angell, Ashley Turnell
Bassi: Simon Gallear, Greg Skidmore
Violin I: Jorge Jimenez
Violin: James Toll
Cello: Kath Sharman
Double Bass: Kate Aldridge
Flutes: Rachel Brown, Christine Garratt
Horns: Gavin Edwards, Richard Bayliss
Organ: Rupert Jeffcoat.