- Credo, for soloists, chorus & orchestra in B flat major
- Missa de Nossa Senhora Do Carmo
Afro-Brazilian Baroque composer José Maurício Nunes Garcìa is probably the earliest-known African-American composer, although he was "American" by virtue of coming from South America. Perhaps Nunes Garcìa is not the model of political propriety one might like in the first non-Western black classical composer; a prominent clergyman in Rio de Janeiro, Nunes Garcìa himself held slaves, although there was nothing unusual about that during his lifetime. Brazil was the last nation in the Western Hemisphere to end slavery, in 1888, more than 50 years after Nunes Garcìa died. The practice is so prevalent in Brazil that periodically new laws have been passed to defeat new kinds of slavery that have sprung up in subsequent years, as well, leading up to present times. In Nunes Garcìa's case the declaration of independence from Portugal in 1822 was a deal breaker, and his last years were typified by hard times. Nevertheless, from the end of the 18th century up to that time he was probably the most prominent native musician in Brazil, a respected and well-known figure who stood apart from his colleagues who were mostly exported from Portugal. Sacred music was central to Nunes Garcìa's responsibilities as a musician, and Longhorn Music's Sacred Music of José Maurício Nunes Garcìa presents two sizeable works he created within this genre, his "Missa de Nossa Senhora da Conceição" (Mass for the Conception of Our Lady, 1810) and a "Credo in B flat major" written somewhat later; it was Nunes Garcìa's custom to compose an additional setting of the Credo to append to his masses, and this one seems to have become separated from the mass to which it was attached. Some sources refer to Nunes Garcìa as a "Brazilian Baroque" composer, but this is incorrect. While the Baroque hung on longer in Spanish-speaking lands than practically everywhere else -- including Britain, where Handel's influence reigned for some time after he died -- by the early 19th century, classical Italian opera was all the rage in the Latin world and this is the influence that Nunes Garcìa most vibrantly reflects. On this Longhorn Music recording -- made at the University of Texas at Austin and featuring their chamber singers and orchestra led by James Morrow -- the orchestra sounds good; it has a very good timpanist and particularly in the "Missa de Nossa Senhora da Conceição," the timpani part matters. The chorus, while energetic, is a bit diffuse and less than alert. However, the soloists -- not all, to be fair, but some and without naming names -- are a very mixed bag, with a couple of singers unable to hit the mark in Nunes Garcìa's admittedly florid and difficult writing for solo voices, and this does not make for pleasant listening. The recording, while adequate, is quiet and lacking in sharpness, though it's listenable. These are the first recordings of both works, so proponents of Nunes Garcìa will not want to be without the Longhorn disc, and the music itself is quite charming and sufficiently individual from Continental European sacred music of that era to be of interest beyond the norm; it's just a pity that the soloists aren't of a consistent level of ability here. Of the two pieces offered, however, it is worth mentioning that the performance of the Credo is stronger than that of the Mass.