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Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (c. 1590-1664)
Streams of Tears
(Puebla Choirbook, 1663)
Deus in adiutorium [2:09]
Mirabilia testimonia tua [8:18]
Stabat Mater [2:54]
Transfige, dulcissime Domine [5:15]
Lamentations [12:41]
Tristis est anima mea [3:12]
Versa est in luctum [3:10]
Missa Ave Regina caelorum [14:03]
Pater peccavi [4:46]
Salve Regina [7:16]
Ave Regina cælorum [3:21]
Julie Cooper, Ben Davies, Mark Dobell, Eamonn Dougan (soloists)
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
rec. St Pauls Church, Deptford, UK, November 2007. DDD.
Booklet with texts and translations.
CORO COR16059 [67:25]
Experience Classicsonline

A CD of chiefly mournful music, with the Lamentations of Jeremiah at its heart? Can’t be much fun? Think again: this is not lugubrious music; rather it emphasises the beauty of lamentation. If anything, Padilla’s setting of Versa est in luctum, my harp is overturned in the dust, is less affective than those of other renaissance and baroque composers, with whom it was a favourite text of mourning. (Victoria’s setting is available for comparison on another Sixteen recording, CORSACD16033 – see below for details). Also, despite the title, not everything here is penitential.
 
Though born in Málaga and generally regarded as one of the most important Spanish-born composers of his time, Padilla spent most of his working life in Mexico. After holding posts at Jérez and Cádiz, he was in Mexico by 1622; there he became maestro de capilla at Puebla Cathedral in 1629. A great deal of his music survives, including some 35 sacred vocal works, chiefly for double choir, and over eighty villancicos.
 
This is not the first recording to contain his music but it does offer a welcome complement to the only other such CD which I own, Missa Mexicana on Harmonia Mundi, where his exuberant music forms the centrepiece of a concert superbly performed by the Harp Consort under Andrew Lawrence-King. (HMU90 7293, but, if you look around, you may still find this on bargain-price HMX290 7293, bundled with the 2006 Harmonia Mundi catalogue – see review.) With the wonderful Missa Ego flos campi at its heart, that HM recording is probably the place to begin listening to the music of Padilla, but I guarantee that, if you purchase it, you will soon be adding the new Coro CD to your wish list.
 
The new recording gets off to a wonderful start with the versicles and responses probably intended for a festal celebration of Vespers, Deus in adiutorium, O God make speed to save me/O Lord make haste to help me/Glory be to the Father, etc. Ex Cathedra/Jeffrey Skidmore on a recent Hyperion CD (Moon, sun and all things, CDA or SACDA67524) are marginally faster than The Sixteen, whose tempo is, in turn, slower than that of Westminster Cathedral Choir on another Hyperion CD – see below. The Sixteen’s middle way seems to me ideal.
 
These opening versicles and responses are followed by an elaborate eight-part setting of the Psalm Mirabilia testimonia tua. Surprisingly, this psalm is prescribed for the office of None, a minor office which rarely received such elaborate treatment. The versicles and responses and this psalm were included on a 1990 Hyperion recording Masterpieces of Mexican Polyphony (Westminster Cathedral Choir/James O’Donnell, CDA66330, available to special order only – may we expect a reissue on Helios?)
 
Not surprisingly, the larger Westminster choir takes these pieces at a more sedate pace, more suited to the acoustic of the cathedral building, but there is no sense in which the performances by The Sixteen sound rushed. The same is true of the Lamentations for Maundy Thursday, also common to the two recordings.
 
The received opinion is that Westminster Cathedral Choir approximates more closely to the sound of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Roman Catholic performance than a professional group like The Sixteen, but this assumption begs a number of questions, not least whether one would really want to hear the sound of a Mexican choir, circa 1630. I’m sure that the sound which Padilla heard in Puebla Cathedral – or even in his native Spain – was far more amateurish than that produced by either The Sixteen or the Westminster choristers. I keep in my collection a recording of Victoria’s Missa Pro Defunctis and Cererols’ Missa de Gloria a 8 solely as a reminder of how off-key non-professionals can sound in this demanding music. (Escoliana & Capella de Música Montserrat/Ars Musicæ de Barcelona/Ireneu Segarra on a long-deleted EMI/DHM CD.) None of which, of course, is meant to reflect on the Westminster choristers.
 
If you want the Victoria, go for The Tallis Scholars – a splendid bargain on a 2-CD reissue (CDGIM207 with other ‘Renaissance Giants’ – see review – or differently coupled, with other funereal music, on another 2-CD bargain, CDGIM205) – or The Sixteen on CORSACD16033. Mention of that earlier recording by The Sixteen has brought to my attention the fact that we don’t seem to have reviewed it; I’m about to make amends.
 
Another recording (Padilla, Music of the Mexican Baroque, Cappella Rutenberg, 1999, on the RCM label – available in the US but not, I think, in the UK) also contains several of the works on this Coro CD. Again on that recording, Deus in adiutorium is slower, though Versa est in luctum and Transfige, dulcissime are faster than the performances by The Sixteen and the Lamentations are taken at about the same pace as here. Performances by The Sixteen do tend to be a little brisker than the competition, but I have no quarrel with their tempi here.
 
The Stabat Mater is one of the great Marian texts, commemorating the anguish of the Mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross. Padilla’s setting is much shorter and less affective than the well-known Pergolesi setting of a century later. Neither here nor in the other works of lamentation on the CD does the composer invite us to wallow in misery; nor does the pace adopted by The Sixteen encourage any such wallowing.
 
The Missa Ave Regina Cælorum is not quite the equal of the Missa Ego flos campi on the Harmonia Mundi recording but it varies the penitential mood on this Coro CD. Both these masses are based on texts associated with the Virgin Mary and both are well worth hearing. Ave Regina is one of the antiphons addressed to Mary at the end of Compline – perhaps it would have been more appropriate to have performed this piece just before the mass which is based on it. Be that as it may, Padilla’s Ave Regina and another such antiphon, Salve Regina, bring the recording to a fine conclusion.
 
The performances by The Sixteen are as close to flawless as one is likely to hear this side of eternity, with an excellent team of soloists credited in Pater peccavi, and the recording does the singing full justice. The acoustic of St Paul’s, Deptford, may not match that of Puebla Cathedral, but Coro have found an excellent recording venue here.
 
The Sixteen are download pluralists, so this recording is available from classicsonline.com, whence I obtained it, from Chandos’s theclassicalshop.net and from emusic.com; it doesn’t seem yet to have joined the Coro recordings on iTunes. The versions from classicsonline and theclassicalshop come in 320kbps sound, the highest quality for mp3 and fully acceptable as far as I am concerned, though it would have been nice to have a lossless alternative (wma or wav). I can’t speak for the version on eMusic, but I have never yet been disappointed with the quality of their downloads – the very occasional tracks which have proved defective have always been restored to my account.
 
The booklet, offered free on the Chandos website, is handsome and informative. The texts and translations which it includes are essential – how about offering these in future, classicsonline and eMusic?
 
I would recommend getting to know the music of Victoria first – and, perhaps, that of Guerrero: see my recent review of a fine Helios reissue of the latter’s Missa Sancta et immaculata on CDH55313 – then, perhaps the Harmonia Mundi recording containing the Missa Ego flos campi.
 
I’ve withheld the ‘thumbs up’ accolade only to encourage listeners new to this music to start with Victoria or Guerrero, then move on to the Harmonia Mundi CD with the Flos campi mass. After that, I can almost guarantee that you’ll want the new recording – order the CD or download it now in anticipation.
 
Brian Wilson
 

 


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