Monday, August 08, 2005

Peerless Portuguese polyphony

In 1580 Philip II of Spain became Philip I of Portugal, and the nation of Portugal lost its independence to Spain. Rule by Spain continued until 1640 when the Duke of Braganza became Joao IV of Portugal, ending Spanish rule.

During those sixty years Portugal was a province of Spain, but perversely during exactly that same period Portugese polyphony reached its creative peak. During this period parody masses based on Palestrina and Francisco Guerrero were common, and the masses and Magnificat settings of Manuel Cardoso (1566-1652) and Filipe de Magalhaes (1570-1652) are among the best known works from the period.

Hyperion has worked tirelessly recording renaissance polyphony, and their back catalogue is second-to-none. They have just reissued a remarkable disc of Masterpeices of Portugese Polyphony on their super-budget Helios label, which means a UK retail price of just £6 ($10 US). The featured composers are Filipe de Magalhaes, and the less well known Duarte Lobo (who is not to be confused with the Spanish composer Alonso Lobo best known for his Versa est in luctum). The two main works are mass settings, Lobo's sublime Missa pro defunctis for eight voices, and Magalhaes' Missa Dilectus meus for five voices. Bruno Turner contributes an excellent sleeve note, and his editions are used for the Lobo, while polyphony scholar and The Sixteen and Tallis Scholar singer Sally Dunkley editied the Magalhaes Mass.

The recording venue is All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, and the 1986 recording is vintage Hyperion - smooth, spacious and very moving. To sample the wonderful sound select one of the following three minute samples - You can share this music with a friend by emailing the post, including the music links, using the envelope icon at the foot of this post.

The only quibble (and it is just a quibble on a super-budget priced CD) is the absence of any information on the sleeve (or the Hyperion web site) about the singers- the William Byrd Choir, or their very able director Gavin Turner. They have one other recording listed on the Hyperion site (Byrd: Benedicta et vererabilis & Alleluia) but I can provide no other information. I have asked Hyperion, but they don't reply to emails from mere CD buyers (unlike hungry little labels like Avie and Art & Musique), although my server logs show Hyperion read the blog as soon as they receive the email. Perhaps if I mailed them offering them a donation to their post-Sawkins court case recording fund appeal they would reply? But back to the positive, can anyone else help with information on the William Byrd Choir? Update - follow this link for the full story of the William Byrd Choir and Gavin Turner.

Overall an outstanding reissue. If you are a devotee of renaissance polyphony it should be in your collection. If you are a newcomer to the delights of this type of choral singing Masterpieces of Portuguses Polyphony is the ideal introduction. It is simply one of the most delightful discs to have been in my player for a long time.

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