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GRAMOPHONE (01/2023)
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Reviewer :
Malcolm Riley

Relatively few organists have explored the byways of early Iberian organ music, despite there being a goodly number of surviving historically interesting instruments dotted around the peninsula (in varying stages of terminal decay). Despite its compact – bijou, even – dimensions, the Cathedral at Elvas (some 130 miles east of Lisbon) houses two venerable instruments. The main West End organ dates from 1762 and consists essentially of a one full-compass manual with 16 stops, plus a shortcompass Corneta de Ecos and an octave and a half of pedals that control the wonderfully named Contrabaixo Bastardos stop. By contrast, the chancel positive organ (of 1758) manages with just five highly characterful stops.

The choice of Elvas as a recording venue couldn’t have been more appropriate since this was where Manuel Rodrigues Coelho (c1555-c1635) began his working life as an organist. The mighty Flores de musica pera o instrumento de tecla & harpa, his only known work, was published in 1620 during his time as organist of the Royal Chapel in Lisbon. Comprising over 500 pages, this rich treasury of plainchantbased keyboard polyphony is comparable to the works of contemporaries such as Titelouze, Frescobaldi and Sweelinck. Advertised as Vol 1, this splendid new album from Inventa will, I suspect, be just the first of a long series.

Sérgio Silva brings years of devoted musicological research to this repertory. He plays cleanly and rhythmically, with an unerring sense of purpose. His detailed booklet notes are helpfully comprehensive and include registration choices. He has stitched together a highly effective sequence of music for the Mass with alternating, interpolated sung plainchants. The perfectly blended contribution from soprano Mariana Moldão and mezzo Maria de Fátima Nunes is one of the album’s great highlights. The recorded sound is generally excellent, although my review disc suffered from some distortion on tracks 26 and 27. Silva copes admirably with the ageing organ actions, which occasionally contribute their own counterpoint, making light work of florid, virtuoso passagework, for example in the Pange lingua movements.

An important though by its very nature niche release, which helps to fill in yet another gap in our collective knowledge.



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