This latest offering from the Marian Consort and Rory McCleery collects devotional settings by late-Renaissance Portuguese polyphonists using texts that dwell on loss and longing as a framework and for potentially covert ambitions for political freedom from the Spanish Habsburgs who ruled Portugal from 1580 to 1640. Included is the first recording of Duarte Lobo’s Missa Veni Domine interspersed with Motets by Estêvão de Brito, Aires Fernandez and Estêvão Lopes Morago. Manuel Cardoso’s renowned Lamentations for Maundy Thursday opens proceedings.
From the outset The Marian Consort declares itself masters of this repertoire, in terms of sumptuous tone and innate understanding of style, superbly recorded too, the one-to-a-part ensemble beautifully captured. Cardoso’s Lamentations has competition from Westminster Cathedral Choir’s similarly-paced account (1991) and Bo Holten’s Ars Nova slower version (1992) but the jewel-like timbre from The Marian Consort bears repeated listening. Much of this stems from McCleery’s handpicked singers who blend perfectly with an awareness of phrase-shapes that lifts the notes off the page with wonderful naturalness.
Such sensitivity brings rewards to the near-ceaseless flow of polyphony that is Lobo’s Missa Veni Domine, its invention based on Palestrina’s Motet of the same name. Such is the buoyancy of the singing that the predominantly six-part textures never fail to hold the attention or lose momentum. The ‘Gloria’ is especially noteworthy for its subtle metrical shifts and spicy harmonies and the text-heavy ‘Credo’ is kept alive by McCleery’s ideal pacing. A more forthright manner characterises the ‘Osanna’, while a gentler approach informs the ‘Benedictus’ and the brief ‘Agnus Dei’ offers consolation for “the sins of the world.”
Other notable choices include Morago’s plaintive De profundis (grabbing attention early on with its false relation), the confessional tone of Lobo’s Pater peccavi and the overlapping phrases of Fernandez’s Circumdederunt me. The pièce de résistance is Brito’s soaring Heu Domine, brilliantly achieved in its luminosity and sudden diminuendo heightening its pathos.
Anyone, whether familiar or unfamiliar with these pieces or this vocal group, will be transfixed by the beauty of construction and performance. Lenten music has never sounded so gorgeous. The booklet includes a note from McCleery as well as texts and translations.