In his programme notes Ex Cathedra’s founder and conductor Jeffrey Skidmore writes that on trips to Brazil he has “struggled through tropical storms and suffered the terrors of the unknown”. All to bring us back a haul of scores composed from the 17th Cathedra Choir and Baroque Orchestra for an evening of Brazilian Baroque.
Ex Cathedra’s fascinating forays into baroque music from South America have revealed an exciting cultural mixture of European and Latin music, especially percussion instruments, giving the music a tangy individual flavour.
This Brazilian music, with its roots in Portugal rather than Spain, was more conventional. The pastoral Nativity Mass by a Rio-born priest Father Mauricio Nunes Garcia, was a pleasantly soothing work, combining mostly gentle instrumental music with florid parts for nine vocal soloists.
The other complete mass, Andre da Silva Gomes’ Mass for eight voices and instruments, was very different: richly textured, alternating two choirs, and with music by turns bold and assertive, the trumpets heralding the Gloria, or delicately persuasive as in the amoroso-styled Laudamus winningly sung by soprano Elizabeth Drury.
Skidmore ensured variety by interspersing a range of shorter items from Harmonic Diversions for organ; extracts from large-scale vocal works – Mesquita’s Jerusalem surges particularly impressive – and a lovely little March in G by da Rocha which had the childlike charm of Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony. Performances by orchestra, soloists, and the 50-strong choir, from which they were drawn, were excellent under Skidmore’s direction.