Very enthusiast review of "Rolling Stone - Missa do Terramoto”  in Público by Manuel Pedro Ferreira

Read the English translation here!

The encounter of a mass, a cavern and an electric guitar...

Unsurprisingly, Graindelavoix showed enormous individual and collective quality, with the direction of Björn Schmelzer enhancing the polyphonic clarity.

The concert begins with a black and white ethnographic film, Il Culto delle Pietre (Luigi di Gianni, 1967), which documents the annual procession to the cave where Saint Venancio lived. The inhabitants of Raiano (L'Aquila, Abruzzo, in central Italy), who could be taken for Portuguese of the same era, rub against the walls of the den, as if inside a relic, trying to transmit to them the protective and therapeutic properties of the hermit. The documentary, on this occasion, is stripped of its original soundtrack and  is now accompanied by an electronic sound track by experimental guitarist Manuel Mota. The environment is strange, static, gloomy; the musicians can barely be seen behind the reticulated screen.

After the film, I remembered what Almada wrote about Soror Mariana: "when the curtain went up I was not able to distinguish either because it was a very dark night and only halfway through did I discover that it was dawn because the Bishop of Beja said he had been waiting for the sunrise!" In fact, the darkness of the cave would envelop us until the end of the concert; this is based on the approximation that Björn Schmelzer made between the "cult of stones" in Abruzzo, the "rolling of the stone" from the tomb of Jesus Christ at the moment of the resurrection and the great earthquake that, according to Matthew, would have occurred at that time (the evangelist frequently uses the image of the earthquake to underline divine actions).

At the hour of Lauds on Easter Sunday, an antiphon summarizes Matthew's version: Et ecce terraemotus factus est magnus, angelus autem domini descendit de caelo, alleluia. The removal of the tombstone is not mentioned here. The first seven notes of the antiphon were taken by Antoine Brumel, at the end of the 15th century, to construct a Mass (cycle of texts from the Ordinary) written for twelve voices: an artistic monument that, for just over thirty years, has come to be punctually revisited by groups specializing in early music.

It is a dense, extensive, impactful work; without failing to respect conventions — illustrated in the Credo by the retention of time in the passage Et homo factus est — it is unusual for several reasons. The harmonies barely move, but the melodic decor is profuse, like gothic spiers topping wide cathedral spans. The canonical replication between voices, for example at the beginning of the Sanctus, is multiplied; the contrast between low voices in slow movement and the imitative restlessness of the upper voices recreates, in another style, the monumental effect of Pérotin's quadrupla.

The idea of an earthquake may even have inspired, in Kyrie, the insistent texture of its ending. This prayer, focused on the sinner, could perhaps justify the tenebrism of the staging, but what about the Gloria, which, moreover, would have been sung on the day of the Resurrection? The Mass was made to celebrate the Light, and therefore it would have deserved to leave the cave. But no: clearly Björn Schmelzer wanted to create a dark event, calling the concert Missa do Terramoto ... in times of catastrophe.

The use of Manuel Mota's skills on the electric guitar, composition and arrangements, which were heard not only in the first fifteen minutes and in the interstices of the Mass, but also during parts of the Mass (very audible presence at the beginning of the Gloria, at the end of Sanctus and in the Agnus Dei) made it possible to unify the concert under a concept of stony reverberation: permanence, minimal displacement, heaviness. In what remains, the interpretative options were original and convincing: given the unorthodox scope of the musical parts, the three four-voice choirs had the participation of one or two instruments each (cornet, serpent, two horns), in addition to two sopranos, one alto, three tenors and two basses.

Unsurprisingly, Graindelavoix showed enormous individual and collective quality, with the direction of Björn Schmelzer enhancing the polyphonic clarity, the organicity of the phrasing (which, in the end, even went to the limits of just tuning) and the internal differentiation of tempos, even managing, at the beginning of Agnus Dei, to sustain a slowness that was both extreme and inspiring. The final part of the Missa, whose handwritten transmission is very degraded, was treated as an experience of fusion between legible melodic lines and electronic speculation. This stony trance, risky, problematic, but consistent, had an enthusiastic response from the audience, which forced the musicians to repeatedly return to the stage to receive the applause.