November GRAMOPHONE, UK / December DIVERDI, SPAIN / January MusicWeb, UK…
Australians explore music from Renaissance Iberia:
La Compañia is one of Australia’s finest and best-known early music ensembles and Iberian music has already been in evidence in its repertiore (a previous disc on ABC is entitled ‘El fuego’). This is a collection of songs by Iberian composers having some Portuguese connection, energetically performed by a group including brass, woodwind, bowed and plucked strings and percussion, but that should not lead the listener to imagine a ‘Renaissance orchestra’ using an array of instruments just for the sake of it; scorings here are delicate and chosen with care. As a consequence, there is some lovely solo and duo playing from the nine members of the ensemble.
I am particularly pleased to see the inclusion of a number of works by the Portuguese Gaspar Fernandes, who worked in Guatemala and Mexico, and whose splendid, rhythmically energetic villancicos (which make frequent use of Creole and even Nahuatl) lend themselves naturally to the kind of vivid performances found here. The recording benefits hugely from the presence of the clarity and energy of soprano Siobhan Stagg: if her Portuguese pronunciation in the anonymous ‘Nao tragais borzeguis pretos’ is only a trifle eccentric (as is her Spanish elsewhere), more important is her infectious enthusiasm. Curiously, the (instrumental) performance of Machado’s ‘Dos estrellas le siguen’ is the slowest I have ever heard: it works beautifully but is somehow transformed into a gorgeously ornamented funeral lament.
This recording, engineered and produced by Thomas Grubb at the Catholic Church of St Fidelis, Moreland, is beautifully clear, with just enough reverberation to make both voice and instruments gleam.