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Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599)
Missa Surge propera [31:12]
Usquequo, Domine [5:24]
Ave Maria [4:15]
Hei mihi, Domine [4:21]
Surge propera [7:21]
Beata Dei genitrix [6:22]
Ave virgo sanctissima [3:57]
Regina caeli laetare [4:25]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
rec. September 2004, Temple Church, London. DDD
GIMELL CDGIM 040 [66:57]


This portrait of the sixteenth-century Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero is The Tallis Scholars’ first Gimell recording of this sometimes overshadowed master of vocal polyphony. In addition to the mass setting, Missa Surge propera, the disc also contains seven other works for varying liturgical use, including a motet of the same name. Contrary to expectations the pieces are not related musically.

The mass itself is one of eighteen Guerrero settings of the Ordinary. It displays some of his most luxuriant writing in six parts. In his concise and informative notes, Peter Phillips, the choir’s founder, points out that Guerrero rarely needed to rely on chordal writing, instead preferring more persistent individual lines as far as possible. This is certainly the case in the six movements of this particular mass. The Tallis Scholars present a wonderfully balanced interpretation, which is wide-ranging both in texture and dynamic. The sumptuous quality of the scoring is expertly demonstrated in performance, particularly when the six voices are grouped into the three upper and three lower voices.

Equally as interesting as the mass are the seven remaining pieces, of which four set Marian texts (Ave Maria, Ave virgo sanctissima and Regina Caeli laetare), two are penitential, while the final one (Surge propera) sets love poetry from the ‘Song of Songs’. The two penitential motets – Usquequo, Domine and Hei mihi, Domine – create a poignant mood, which manifestly demonstrate Phillips’ suggestion that the structural perfection of much of Guerrero’s work often conceals a deeper emotional complexity beneath the surface.

Guerrero was a prolific composer of motets using texts in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Of the four here, Ave, virgo sanctissima is possibly one of the best-known works of polyphony to come from Spain in the sixteenth century. Regina caeli laetare and Ave Maria are both eight-part motets. The latter in an antiphonal two-choir setting contains perhaps the most chordal writing on the disc, The former with its abundant polyphony is in sharp contrast. The remaining Marian motet, Beata Dei genitrix, is a substantial work in two halves. It is a predominantly reverential and serene work leading up to exultant ‘Alleluias’ which end both parts of the motet. The manner in which The Tallis Scholars serve to illuminate each of these works is exemplary.

The final work on this disc, Surge propera is on a similar scale to that of Beata Dei genitrix, also being in two halves. As already mentioned the text is from ‘Song of Songs’, but there is an addition of a repeated augmentation of a chant (or cantus firmus) associated with ‘Veni, sponsa Christi’, which is found in the middle of the texture and serves to enhance the sultry and exquisite qualities of the music. This once again receives a suitably stylish interpretation.

The usual and distinct blend for which The Tallis Scholars are well-known is in evidence here; vivid and pure sounding soprano and alto lines are combined with rich and rounded tenors and basses. Those who are used to hearing the customary precision, clarity and impeccable musicality of this group will not be dissatisfied. From the opening of the Missa Surge propera, this recording does not disappoint and makes a substantial and welcome contribution to the Guerrero discography – a fantastic marriage of choir and repertoire.

Adam Binks



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