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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Missa Miserere mihi domine; Magnificat
PERFORMER: Ensemble Vocal Européen/Philippe Herreweghe
From 1589 until his death in 1650, Manuel Cardoso spent his life in retreat at a Carmelite monastery during a period when Portugal was subjugated by the Spanish Habsburgs. Thus, the Ensemble Vocal Européen under Philippe Herreweghe focuses on the emotive blend of wounded national pride and social isolation that gives Cardoso’s Renaissance-inspired music its unusually opulent character.


Herreweghe shapes the ensemble’s lithe textures with sensitivity and subtlety, highlighting the Missa Miserere mihi domine’s heartfelt entreaties for mercy in the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei. Perhaps Cardoso was making a veiled plea to the work’s dedicatee, the Duke of Braganza, on whom rested Portugal’s hopes for independence. Whatever the work’s hidden political agenda, this reverberant recording enhances the ensemble’s persuasive emphasis on the hauntingly timeless atmosphere conjured by Cardoso’s rich counterpoint. Two motets illuminate eloquent word-painting, although The Sixteen’s livelier pace and higher pitch in ‘Sitivit anima mea’ generates increased vitality in the rising phrases that symbolise a dove’s wings.


With the Miserere mihi domine Mass – interpreted in the context of the composer’s political and social circumstances – Herreweghe and the ensemble show Cardoso’s music in a new light. Their jubilant performance of the Magnificat presents his familiar brilliance. Nicholas Rast