18th-Century Portuguese Love Songs

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COMPOSERS: Avondano,D Scarlatti,Leite,Mauricio,Seixas
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: 18th-Century Portuguese Love Songs
WORKS: Songs by Avondano, Leite, Mauricio, D Scarlatti, Seixas et al
PERFORMER: Sandra Medeiros, Joana Seara (sopranos); L’avventura London/Zak Ozmo
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67904

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Described by the 18th-century English traveller William Beckford as ‘the most voluptuous and bewitching music that ever existed since the days of the Sybarites’, these Portuguese modinhas range from seductive love songs – all strumming guitars, husky flutes and jazzy Afro-Brazilian rhythms – to languid expressions of lost love in which music and lyrics are tinged with the melancholy hues of ‘saudade’ (longing), which seem to foreshadow Portuguese fado.

Stylistically, the songs are a curious fusion of polite salon music of a somewhat saccharine sentimentality – epitome of the fashionable and graceful Galant style – and the sensual melodies and vigorous dance rhythms of Latino folk, imported from Brazil. As such, the modinha presents something of a challenge for modern performers: is this refined, bourgeois chamber music or an excuse for sybaritic frenzy? L’Avventura’s performances tend toward the genteel, suggesting decorous courtly soirées rather than raunchy street theatre. Fully at ease with the music’s poetry, Portuguese sopranos Sandra Medeiros and Joana Seara flit easily from playful coquettes to tragic lovers, while a small but colourful instrumental ensemble offers discrete accompaniments. These are, in short, charming accounts, though they never quite inspire the ‘profane deliriums’ that the impressionable Mr Beckford promised.

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Kate Bolton