It is wholly appropriate to begin to write an essay about this 2016 recording by the ineffable Sofia Vitória: Echoes – Fernando Pessoa, English Poetry & Prose , a musical-dramatic production that resurrects the enigmatic life of Portugal’s greatest poet, by quoting three lines from O Guardador de Rebanhos (Guardian of the Herds by Alberto Caeiro in Athena, 1924-25):
Não tenho ambições nem desejos
Ser poeta não é uma ambição minha
É a minha maneira de estar sozinho…
In many ways Fernando Pessoa has remained largely unknown to all but discerning readers of his verse, despite writing under several heteronyms, as he liked to call them. As if his wish came true, like the herdsman of the poem Pessoa has also found himself left sozinho or alone while we have been left alone (as well) to grapple with his larger-than-life mystique.
It has fallen upon a uniquely lyrical vocalist Sofia Vitória to resurrect the virtually unknowable Fernando Pessoa through his English prose and verse. Vitória’s remarkable work combines a kind of mysteriously ordained time and space born of Pessoa’s own words: A essência do universo é a contradição. With music written by her partner and pianist Luis Figueiredo, pianist Mário Laginha, José Peixoto, also a guitarist of great repute, and Vitória herself to accompanying her own soulful, lonesome soprano, this recording also brings a very raw and achingly beautiful idiom of Pessoa’s writing to light. I have seen men and women giving life, hopes, all for others. I have seen such acts of high devotedness that I have wept tears of gladness. These things, I have thought, are beautiful, although they are powerless to redeem. They are the pure rays of the sun on the vast dung-heap of the world, Vitória sings in a voice full of captivating joy and pathos, on “Ten Thousand Times My Heart Broke Within Me” to the accompaniment of Figueiredo’s gorgeous melody. And just when you think that nothing could sound more joyful, or sorrowful, there’s a lot more that does all the way down to the end of the disc.
This is music that is best enjoyed in splendid isolation, It is in such an air, heavy with such absolute silence, that the fine nuances of Vitória’s indefinable vocalastics bring her special kind of intimate, private experience to life. Here a sharp inhalation made as if with great urgency becomes palpable; even tactile and in what might seem like interminable seconds it is gently released in an elongated, warming updraft. But this is no ordinary breath-controlled release of a lyric. Suddenly you become privy to what it is like to praise what is to be praised and condemn what is to be condemned. Elsewhere Vitória will treat you to how true she is to the ideology of Pessoa’s pure music. Such a song is “Wake with the sun”, the vocalist’s contribution to Pessoa’s 1917 poem from Poesia Inglesa I (Edited and translated by Luisa Freire). Here too, there is a sense that Sofia Vitória, is possessed of an intimate wisdom of the tonal colours of Pessoa’s work.
Echoes – Fernando Pessoa, English Poetry & Prose is a stunning album; a musical comet. You’ll go a long way to hear not only singing this good. But more than for such musical grandeur you will be overjoyed to be treated to an almost nakedly intimate experience of Pessoa’s work. And, of course, if you were not already, you will also find yourself falling in love with the quite magical vocal artistry of Sofia Vitória.
Track List: All nature speaks to me [Alexander Search/João Paulo Esteves da Silva]; Epigram [Alexander Search/Joana Espadinha]; The story of Solomon Waste [Alexander Search/José Peixoto]; Ten thousand times my heart broke within me [Charles Robert Anon/Luís Figueiredo]; Work [Alexander Search/João Hasselberg]; Mother [Fernando Pessoa/Mário Laginha]; Lycanthropy [Fernando Pessoa/António Zambujo]; Masks and undermasks [Fernando Pessoa/Paula Sousa]; Here and there [Alexander Search/José Mário Branco]; Justice [Alexander Search/José Peixoto]; Separated from thee [Fernando Pessoa/Amélia Muge]; The end [Fernando Pessoa/Daniel Bernardes]; Wake with the sun [Fernando Pessoa/Sofia Vitória]; I love my dreams [Alexander Search/Edu Mundo].
Personnel: Sofia Vitória: vocals; José Peixoto: classical guitar; Luís Figueiredo: keyboards and arrangements; Eduardo Raon: harp and electric guitar; António Quintino: double bass; Joel Silva: drums; Donovan Bettencourt: spoken word.