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Tomás Luis De VICTORIA (1548–1611)
Missa Gaudeamus - a liturgical sequence, with organ works by Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643)
FRESCOBALDI Toccata avanti la Messa * [1:15]
Chant Introit: Gaudeamus omnes - mode I [3:39]
VICTORIA Kyrie (Missa Gaudeamus) [4:26]
Gloria (Missa Gaudeamu) [7:50]
Chant Collect: Famulorum tuorum, quaesumus Domine [0:59]
Epistle: Lectio libri Sapientiae [2:24]
Gradual: Propter veritatem - mode V [2:47]
Alleluia: Assumpta est Maria in caelum - mode V [2:25]
FRESCOBALDI Canzon dopo l’Epistola * [1:13]
Chant Gospel: In illo tempore: intravit Jesus in quoddam castellum [2:01]
VICTORIA Credo (Missa Gaudeamus) [11:23]
FRESCOBALDI Recercar dopo il Credo * [2:39]
Chant Offertory: Assumpta est Maria - mode VIII [2:08]
VICTORIA Motet: Vidi speciosam, Part 1 [3:45]
Chant Preface: Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare [2:54]
VICTORIA Sanctus (Missa Gaudeamus) [3:15]
Benedictus (Missa Gaudeamus) [2:43]
Chant Pater noster [1:58]
VICTORIA Agnus Dei (Missa Gaudeamus) [5:13]
Chant Communion: Optimam partem elegit sibi Maria - mode VIII [0:44]
VICTORIA Motet: Vidi speciosam, Part 2: Quae est ista [3:19]
Chant Post-communion: Mensae caelestis participes effecti [1:43]
FRESCOBALDI Recercar: Sancta Maria * [2:24]
Thomas Wilson*; Lay Clerks of Westminster Cathedral/Matthew Martin
rec. Westminster Cathedral, London, 7-10 July 2008. DDD.
Texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA67748 [73:20] 
Experience Classicsonline

Victoria's Missa Gaudeamus was written in 1576 when the composer was the Maestro di Cappella at the Collegio Germanico. Victoria also taught the German seminarians music, conversing with them in Latin. We may thus suppose that this six-part mass probably had its origins in music that Victoria wrote to be sung in the college, where we might assume that it was sung by an all-male group of talented musical seminarians. Though the Sistine Chapel used castrati on the top two lines of the choir, the Spanish Royal Chapels tended to use falsettists and we must assume that smaller chapels might have done likewise.

I bring up this matter of who might have sung the mass because on this new recording from Westminster Cathedral, the Lay Clerks of the Cathedral Choir have recorded the mass under the direction of Matthew Martin. They sing without boys, assigning the six voices of the mass to AATTBB in entirely convincing fashion.

The mass is based on a motet by Morales, Jubilate Deo omnis terra. Morales uses the plainchant proper Gaudeamus omnes as a cantus firmus. Victoria does the same - hence the name of the mass. So that, for example, in the Kyrie the chant is assigned to the second tenor part and in the second (and concluding) Agnus Dei the second alto part uses the Gaudeamus chant (in long notes). An additional baritone part forms a canon at the octave - a suitably rich conclusion to a wonderful mass.

The proper Gaudeamus omnes is used as Introit on a number of festivals including the Feast of the Assumption. Taking their cue from this Matthew Martin and his singers have assembled a programme of polyphony and chant which covers both the Propers and Ordinary for the Feast of the Assumption, interspersed with organ music by Frescobaldi. The result makes a supremely satisfying whole, displaying the polyphony embedded in chant rather than as a found object all on its own. The programme is completed with Victoria's substantial motet, Vidi speciosam, which takes its text from the first Responsory at Matins for the Feast of the Assumption.

This is no archaeological reconstruction, neither in content nor in style of performance. Regarding content, the music is that which might have been sung for the Feast of the Assumption during Victoria's lifetime, but represents no particular historical occasion. Regarding the style of performance, it must be borne in mind that the Lay Clerks sing chant and polyphony at Westminster Cathedral on a regular basis, with an ethos and style which has as its basis the reforms of the monks of Solesmes at the end of the nineteenth century. The way they sing plainchant is probably quite different to the chant singing in sixteenth century Rome.

But the sheer fact that the Lay Clerks sing regularly at Mass means that their performance has many indefinable characteristics which arise out of the use of chant within the liturgy. Simply, they sound as if they have been singing plainchant all their lives and that the chant means something. This is an important point. Whilst there is music to admire in their performance, choirs such as that at Westminster cannot always provide music-making on an exalted scale as the Tallis Scholars. Instead we get the benefit that the effect of a regular diet of chant within the liturgy brings.

To consider the mass performance first; the choir makes a strong rich sound. They sing with a notably good sense of line and a feeling for the ebb and flow of the polyphony, but this is no coolly perfect performance. Individual voices are evident and you get the feeling that this is a group of individuals rather than an ensemble where individual sound is completely subjugated to the sound of the total ensemble. That said, there is something rather English in the rapt perfection of the performance. I would imagine that if sung by one of the contemporary Italian groups, vocal lines would be rather more vividly vibrant.

The group seems to have been recorded relatively closely, capturing their rich sound before it evaporates into the vastness of the Cathedral. This disc definitely does not reflect the sound you would hear if you were sat in the nave, but rather that you would probably hear it if sitting in the apse with the choir. The mass has rather a dark texture - Tess Knighton in her Gramophone review of Andrew Carwood's recording describes the mass as being dark as chocolate. There are moments when voices are pushed towards their limit, notably the first altos and first tenors, but this is never unpleasant and somehow adds to the passionate effect of the performance.

Victoria's motet Vide Speciosam is split into its two parts and one sung as an offertory motet, the other as communion. The motet is less elaborately polyphonic than the mass and makes a good foil.

The surrounding plainchant is what makes a fine performance into something special. Besides all the propers, the disc also includes the Epistle and Gospel (both sung) as well as the Pater Noster. The Lay Clerks way with plainchant is both mellifluous and involving; this is the sort of disc I could imagine giving to someone to convince of the beauties of chant.

The four Frescobaldi organ pieces, played by Thomas Wilson, provide a welcome breath of fresh air through the proceedings. The final organ piece, Recercar: Sancta Maria adds fifth sung part to the four-part organ texture; the organ plays close textured imitative writing based on the Gaudeamus chant and the voices sing this to the words Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis. 
Missa Gaudeamus has been recorded by the Cardinall's Musick, under Andrew Carwood, where they couple the mass with the Missa pro Victoria and motets. Carwood uses women on the top two lines, as might be expected.

For the motet, Vidi Speciosam, the choir are in competition with themselves as a 1985 disc, under David Hill, coupled the motet with the mass of the same name, and they also recorded it in 1973 under Colin Mawby.

The CD booklet includes a long note on the music, which includes pointers to the liturgy for those unfamiliar, plus texts in English and Latin.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Brian Wilson



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