WORKS: Mass for eight voices; Pinguis est panis; Christmas Responsories
PERFORMER: Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5516
Some composers earn their obscurity; others are victims of circumstance. Although Esteves worked in Lisbon from 1726 to 1751, he first developed an outdated polyphonic technique in Rome. The stylistic conflict is immediately clear: the counterpoint is too short-breathed to achieve the expansiveness of its Renaissance models and the harmony lacks the directional drive of the late Baroque. The musical results are intriguing: a contrapuntal Kyrie over rolling sequences; a Christe in double imitative counterpoint – two contrasting lines each mirrored ingeniously throughout the eight-part choir; the closing Kyrie in a dancing triple time.
The twelve Responsories for the Matins of Christmas Day are stylistically more even, though delightfully varied in texture. Each begins and ends chorally, with a vers in the middle for an ensemble of soloists. They come from within the Christ Church choir, providing moments of breathtaking beauty, especially from the finely focused trebles.
Although I would have liked more of Dorchester Abbey’s reverberance, and the spacing of the divided choir disguises Esteves’s delight in antiphony, the recording reveals the vitality and focus of Darlington’s fine Oxford forces. George Pratt