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Toms Luis DE VICTORIA (1548-1611)
Second Vespers of the Feast of the Annunciation
[Versicle and Response] Deus, in adiutorium meum intende [01:04]
[Antiphon] Missus est Gabriel -
[Vesper Psalm] Dixit Dominus 8 -
[Antiphon] Missus est Gabriel [06:19]
[Antiphon] Ave Maria -
[Vesper Psalm] Laudate pueri Dominum 8 [05:36]
[Motet] Ave Maria 8 [04:39]
[Antiphon] Ne timeas Maria -
[Vesper Psalm] Laetatus sum 12 [06:49]
[Motet] Ne timeas Maria 4 [02:58]
[Antiphon] Dabit ei Dominus -
[Vesper Psalm] Nisi Dominus 8 -
[Antiphon] Dabit ei Dominus [06:34]
[Little Chapter] Ecce virgo concipiet -
[Response] Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae [01:32]
[Hymn] Ave maris stella 4 -
[Versicle and Response] Ave Maria, gratia plena [06:57]
[Magnificat antiphon] Gabriel angelus -
[Magnificat] Magnificat 8 -
[Magnificat antiphon] Gabriel angelus [10:28]
[Versicle and Response] Dominus vobiscum -
[Collect for the day] Deus, qui de beatae Mariae Virginis -
[Versicle and Response] Dominus vobiscum - Benedicamus Domino [02:23]
[Votive antiphon] Regina coeli 8 -
[Versicle and Response] Gaude et laetare -
[Votive antiphon collect] Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii [05:53]
[Litany of Loreto] Kyrie eleison 8 [07:32]
The Exon Singers/Matthew Owens
Recorded in January 2004 in the Chapel of Giggleswick School, North Yorkshire, UK. DDD
DELPHIAN DCD 34025 [68:46]

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Of all composers of the Spanish renaissance Victoria is the most frequently performed and recorded. In particular his Tenebrae Responsories and his Requiem have received much attention. A large proportion of his music is related to the devotion of the Virgin Mary, which is reflected by the many recordings of his Marian motets. This disc presents a collection of music for use at the Second Vespers of the Feast of the Annunciation. Most of the music has probably been written during De Victoria's stay in Rome. In the booklet the musicologist Jon Dixon, who put together this programme, writes: "There is no direct evidence that the continuous use of polyphony on this scale in Vespers was practised in late sixteenth century Rome, or that the early seventeenth century Venetian practice of replacing antiphons with motets on similar texts was followed in Rome at Victoria's time." But: "This project examines some of the Marian music Victoria wrote, with consideration to the liturgical context in which it might have been used."

I find this project rather questionable. The programme is not presented as "an 'authentic' reconstruction, but more as a musical offering demonstrating how this wonderful body of music could be performed employing some of the liturgical practices that developed in the following generation". From the use of the words 'could be' (rather than 'could have been') one has to conclude that there is no historical foundation whatsoever for the way this music is used here. But if there is no shred of evidence that De Victoria's Marian motets could ever have been used to replace plainchant in a Vesper service, for instance, then what is the point of presenting them this way?

The Exon Singers are one of the leading British chamber choirs, which was founded in 1966. Although its repertoire ranges from the renaissance to the present day, the core of its activities is the music of the 20th century, as the concert programmes and the discography on its website shows. Here it consists of 8 sopranos, 5 altos (male and female), 5 tenors and 6 basses. There is no doubt this is a very fine choir, which produces a strong sound. In particular the Vesper Psalms get a bright and vibrant interpretation which underlines their jubilant character.

But the performance also lacks some subtlety and differentiation, in particular in regard to dynamics and articulation. Even though classical polyphony has to be sung basically legato, not every line should be sung in one breath, without any stressing of words or syllables. And here too much is sung at the same dynamic level, mostly forte, which becomes pretty tiring after a while. A more relaxed and flexible approach would have done this recording a lot of good.

It is especially in the more intimate pieces where this performance fails to convey the character of the music. The interpretation of the strongly emotional 8-part Ave Maria, for instance, is much too down-to-earth. The recording by Pro Cantione Antiqua ('El Siglo de Oro', Teldec) brings out with greater strength the exaltation of this motet. The last piece on this disc, the litany Kyrie eleison, in which the Virgin Mary - referred to with many different names (Holy Mother, Holy Virgin, Virgin of virgins, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the Martyrs etc) - is asked to pray for the sinners, is too straightforward.

I would recommend this recording in particular because of the four Vesper Psalms, which show a somewhat different side of De Victoria's art and which have not to date been paid enough attention. But the liturgical context is without historical foundation, and some of the other items lack the necessary emotional power.

Johan van Veen

see also Review by John Quinn



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