Saturday Magazine
Portuguese Music

O. D. Sooriyapala

One is on the lookout for potential sources of high levels of artistry to fulfil one’s need for aesthetic experience. Foreign artists of repute are such a source. They are likely to have the ability to display astonishing skills in performing their instruments and to create an emotional atmosphere which is magical.

Three such Portuguese artists performed a concert called Converses De Voz Guitarra (Conversations of voice and guitar) on Sunday (22 September) evening at the Lumbini Auditorium, Colombo. Antonio Chainho played the Portuguese Guitar, Carlos Soares da Silva the Classical Guitar, and Marta Dias sang. (How homely the names looked - da Silva, Dias, and there was also an Almeida amongst the officials. That’s an upside down view of course - we took those names from the Portuguese 500 years ago!)

The Portuguese Guitar looked like a lute and in the hands of the master gave music of great melodic brilliance. The Classical Guitar (Spanish Guitar) gave harmonic support throughout the recital. The singer was a mezzosoprano who sang with great feeling without vulgarising it with unnecessary bodily actions and taking care to use the microphone only at a distance from her. Hers was a unique style - without any of the frills of the operatic aria or the mindless shouting of pop musicians. The most astonishing feature of the ensemble was that they all performed entirely from memory and without any need even to look at one another for coordination. Once they were permitted to get started (after a mere 15-minute delay) they played on without any break from start to finish. Their skill was sheer virtuosity. A couple of the pieces even included a sonata and an improvisation. I came into the hall wondering whether I’d have to hear baila - which the Sinhalese people have now thoroughly indigenised into a local art form - but there was none of it.

My pleasure would have been enhanced had there been programme notes giving some insight into the meaning of the songs and the settings for the various dances that were played. And also if the boys at the back of the hall kept more quiet during the performance. The MC who spoke before and after the concert made it twice clear that Chainho had performed before Reagan and other comparable personages.

I wish to express thanks to the organisers of the concert which was part of the celebrations for 500 years of relations between Portugal and Sri Lanka. The concert was open to all, free of charge, but the audience was not enough to fill more than a fraction of the hall.

The principal organiser was the Fundacao Oriente (Orient Foundation), a private body with headquarters in Lisbon, Portugal. Local support came from the Ministry of Culture, Sri Lanka, and the Historical Association of Sri Lanka.