Established in 2009 by Luís Toscano, Cupertinos has now released its debut recording. It’s a gratifying selection of devotional offerings from Portuguese Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650), a master of sacred choral polyphony. His presence has gained a distinctive input from several groups, including Mark Brown’s Pro Cantione Antiqua, The Tallis Scholars, The Schola Cantorum of Oxford, and Philippe Herreweghe’s Ensemble Vocal Européen. More recently the Choir of Girton College Cambridge (Toccata Classics) and The Marian Consort (Delphian) have made rewarding additions to the discography.
The singing from Cupertinos is reliable if not always polished. A generous acoustic as well as sympathetic engineering adds plenty of warmth to the overall tone and partially absorbs some occasional acidity within the ten voices. Uneven timbre and unstable tempos impair the opening portion of the Lamentations for Maundy Thursday, which, despite its forward momentum, manages to sound unyielding and relentless. The plainer style of ‘In monte Oliveti’ and ‘Tristis est anima mea’ is more satisfying and shows off the group’s ensemble and intonation to advantage.
A more uniform sound is achieved in the Missa pro defunctis a 4 (Requiem) in which Cardoso’s expressive harmonies periodically raise an eyebrow, as in the closing bars of the ‘Introitus’ – a wonderful moment but here lacking vivid engagement; there’s not enough ebb and flow, and phrases are not relished enough; my attention began to wane before the end of the ‘Kyrie’ – music that glows with flowing counterpoint and a glorious cadence. The largely chordal and beautiful ‘Agnus Dei’ falls just short of achieving a sense of awed stillness, and the somewhat uninvolved ‘Communio’ never quite finds the necessary repose.
The Magnificat alternates solo plainchant (pleasingly sung by a soprano) and mostly four-part polyphony occasionally enlivened by rhythmic and harmonic felicities. And of the eight Motets, all setting uncommon texts, only two appear to have been recorded before – although Hyperion makes no premiere claims. Sitivit anima mea brings the most rewards and, if its performance doesn’t quite seduce the ear as Herreweghe’s more luxurious version (Harmonia Mundi), its poise and commitment do much to convey Cardoso’s superb artistry.
Hyperion’s booklet includes comprehensive notes and translations.