Americans are not generally knowledgeable about Brazilian choral music. We know samba and the bossa nova classics of Antonio Carlos Jobim and others, but the country's choral music is less known. In Brazil, gorgeous, undulating melodies and driving, complex rhythms are the soul of the music. Harmony mostly comes from the instrumental accompaniments, not from vocal harmony. Here, however, is a wonderful new CD of Brazilian choral music, a collaboration between the University of São Paulo, and the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. It's called Romaria.

Romaria — usually translated from the Portuguese as “pilgrimage” — evokes images of long journeys and wanderings. Featuring repertoire written after 1950, this album is, in more ways than one, anti-establishment. For starters, it laughs in the face of the stereotype that contemporary music is too mathematical to listen to, or that modern music is too abstract to enjoy. Romaria opens with Henrique de Curitiba’s 1973 piece Metaphors, which, until this point, had yet to be recorded and released. Ambient sounds of Brazil rise up through the silence, eventually joined by a choir singing an excerpt from Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Missa Quarti toni (the Credo’s “Et incarnatus est”). The insectile sounds and low amphibious groans act as a kind of rhythmic ground, and its interactions with the soaring soprano voices are thrilling. Listenable indeed!

What makes this entire album oh-so-enjoyable is that within the music one can hear the confluences of the array of styles that influence Brazilian music. There are the colonial importations of old European musical conventions (Aylton Escobar’s Missa breve sobre ritmos populares brasileiros or Villa-Lobos’s Magnificat-Alleluia), the syncretism that exists between the saints of Roman Catholicism and the orishas of Candomblé (Carlos A. Pinto Fonseca’s Jubiabá), and the presence of Afro-Brazilian folk music (Ernest Mahle’s arrangements of Jacaré and Vamo Acabá Co'Este Samba are particular standouts). 

Please enjoy!