Up until the arrival of this disc I had never warmed to the music
of Spanish composer Cristóbal de Morales. I did not find him especially
interesting despite his high reputation both in his own life-time
and in various commentaries and books. I have had for many years
the Westminster Cathedral Choir’s disc of his mass ‘Queramus cum
pastoribus’ and various motets (Hyperion CDA66635 recently reissued
on Helios) and recordings of other pieces. Perhaps it was the
somewhat unremitting nature of the constantly imitative counterpoint
that palled. There were however times when listening to this CD
I have been on the verge of tears not only at the sheer beauty
of the music but also at the wonderful performances.
is the fourth CD these fifteen singers have made for Hyperion;
their recording of the music of Thomas Crecquillon (CDA67596)
has been very well received although it has escaped me thus far.
knew that I would like this disc almost from the start when
its yellow booklet cover glowed with a Fra Angelico angel
which I have recently seen in situ in Detroit. Wisely I think, The Brabant
Ensemble concentrate on motets instead of mass settings. Steven
Rice says in his very useful booklet notes they have especially
homed in on pieces not recorded before or little heard. Thus
we have the three opening motets suitable for Holy Week and
several in honour of the Virgin.
started with track 1, the moving Good Friday Lamentation and
instantly marvelled at the rich, warm yet glowing sound of
the choir, helped enormously by a realistic recording. What
Justin Lowe and Jeremy Summerly, the recording supervisors
have managed to do is not only to enable us to get close to
the voices so that we hear good, clear diction but also to
gain a real sense of the church acoustic (Merton College);
on that subject more later.
of the Lamentations have been chosen from the complete set.
These may well have been composed for the Sistine chapel where
Morales sang for several years. Each begins with a Hebrew
letter ‘Heth’, ‘Teth’ ‘Samech’ … and each ends ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum’.
Morales mixes simple homophonic textures with searing counterpoint
in a very remarkable way – this especially in the opening
motet for Good Friday, 'Vocavi amicos meos’.
the Marian motets we have the wonderfully pleading but joyous
‘Sancta Maria, succurre miseris’. Even more joyous - as indeed
it should be – there is the six-part ‘Regina Caeli’, as well
as the most famous and most moving text of all, the ‘Salve
Regina’. This latter work is set ‘in alternatim’ that is with
the odd verses as plainchant the rest as polyphony - just
as an earlier generation like Obrecht might have done. You
might have expected this to have been the pattern for the
Magnificat, the longest work on the CD, but unusually, Morales
has through-composed it with no plainchant verses.
the non-Marian pieces a bit of a ‘one-off’ is the six-voice
‘Gaude et laetare’ first performed on Sunday 9 March 1539
in Ferrara Cathedral. We know this because it celebrated the
award of the Cardinal’s hat to Ippolito II d’Este “Let us
rejoice with Ippolito and sing a new song”. It is a rare example
in Morales of a ‘public statement’, and is quite exultant
in its final effect.
sunny atmosphere pervades the happy text of Psalm 127 ‘Beati
omnes’ - Blessed are those who fear the Lord’ - so much so
that Stephen Rice muses on whether the piece was actually
written by Clemens non Papa whose voice is discernable. It
also seems likely that the five-part ‘Spem in alium (yes,
Tallis also set this text) may be by someone else: a composer
who enjoyed false relations and a darker atmosphere. Rice’s
suggestion of Nicholas Gombert does not seem right to me and
an alternative suggestion of Vincenzo Ruffo is difficult to
must throw open a niggling and annoying point which on this
site we have space to mention, that is the obtrusive letter
S or perhaps Stz or ti sounding consonants
which rebound around chapel walls in the recording, especially
in the ‘Salve Regina’. If the treble is turned right down
this does alleviate the problem a little. I wonder if the
sound engineers noticed this or is it my equipment or me being
too sensitive? Despite that the voices come across as being
fresh. The dynamics have been added sensibly, sensitively
and have been beautifully graded. In addition the choir’s
diction is excellent. All Latin texts are in any event supplied
with good quality translations.
see also Review
by Brian Wilson