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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599)
Vespers for All Saints and the Missa Pro Defunctis

Chapelle du Roi directed by Alistair Dixon
Recorded in St. Jude’s Church, Hampstead, March 1999
SIGNUM CD017 [76.54]
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This generously filled CD was recorded to form a part of the celebrations on the occasion of the quatercentenary of the death of Guerrero. This involved Chapelle du Roi taking time out from recording the complete Tallis, a project which, as I write, is still developing. The editions used for this CD have recently been published by ‘The Cantiones Press’ whose editor is Alistair Dixon. Mapa Mundi, which is run and maintained by Bruno Turner, have also published this work. Mr Turner has been admirably commissioned to write the excellent booklet notes.

Francisco Guerrero was a great composer and a much loved man, whose music continued to be copied and sung up to 200 years after his death. His contemporary was, of course, Victoria, also a great composer but whose music has chimed in more with modern times on account, I suspect, of its more overt emotionally charged harmonies and general passion. Also Victoria has been available in cheap and easily accessible editions for practically a century, whereas the more restrained Guerrero had little in print until the 1970s. Even then the quiet spirituality and extraordinary technique of Guerrero’s music was not at first noticed. Even now most cathedral choirs have yet to tackle it. This CD is a very good example of the composer’s music. Sometimes introverted, never overly passionate, wonderfully contrapuntal with clear textures, and the polyphony divided up by plainchant. This is the plan of the first five of the motets for Vespers. Incidentally the fourth one, ‘Laude pueri Dominum’ is by Rodrigo Cebellos, a pupil of Guerrero.

Following these we have a hymn, ‘Christe redemptor omnium’ also sung alternatum (the odd numbered verses are plainchant and the polyphonic even numbered verses have the chant in the top part); then, similarly a Magnificat to end the Vespers music.

As a link into the Requiem we next hear a marvellous and immensely moving motet ‘O Domine Jesu Christe’ a prayer to the Crucified Jesus. The mood of this leads naturally into the ‘Missa Pro defunctis’, a twelve movement work of about 35 minutes duration. Again plainchant plays an important role, if not directly, then heard in the top part of a four or five part texture.

The plan of the Mass is a slight variant on others as was common practice at the time; no one centre had quite had the same liturgy. So here we have the usual Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus but we have a Tract text to close the mass ‘Dicit Dominus’ (‘I am the resurrection and the life’). There is also an earlier tract ‘Sicut cervas’ (‘Like as a hart desireth the water brook’) (Psalm 42) The cool beauty of the music, the unpretentious proportions and the calm unfolding of the ancient melodies to the venerable texts reveal Guerrero’s approach to the art as devout and contemplative. To quote Bruno Turner "There is a stillness and ceremonial formality about it; characteristics that may have become lost in the world of zealous passions in the times of religious conflict."

It seems to me that the performances are faultless and the recorded balance ideal. I find it impossible to criticise the singers. The speeds are well judged and any lover of renaissance music would find this disc a worthwhile investment even if the music is restrained and coolly beautiful.
Gary Higginson

 



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