Zuguambé: Music for liturgy from the monastery from Santa Cruz de Coimbra c. 1650

Capella Sanctæ Crucis, Tiago Simas Freire
57:31
harmonia mundi HMN 916107

This third CD from harmonia mundi’s Nova series is devoted to music associated with the liturgy performed in the mid-17th century at the Portuguese Monastery of Coimbra. Most of the music is anonymous and is taken from the Monastery’s manuscript collections, which contain a curious mixture of sacred and secular repertoire. Tiago Simas Freire argues that this suggests that these madrigals and villancicos de Negro  served a liturgical purpose, and they are included here in the general flow of the liturgy. I have my doubts about this – surely it is much more likely that the monks recorded this secular music simply for their own private enjoyment. As none of the texts are supplied, it is impossible to judge the contents of these villancicos, but they sound rather saucy for liturgical use. The wide range of instruments are beautifully played and blend very well with the eight voices, while Freire’s innovative approach to music which he clearly knows very well is refreshing and thought-provoking. The jazzy rhythms and the insistent percussion recalls the recordings made by various groups a few years back of south American sacred repertoire, and this CD is no less catchy. The HM Nova series has the rather off-putting house style of presenting the young performers staring intensely from the covers of the package, but it does seem to be offering a fresh look at old repertoire and to be providing a platform for these young and very capable musicians. And I’m afraid that even after reading the programme notes, I am still none the wiser as to what Zuguambé is…

D. James Ross