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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Cristóbal de MORALES (c.1500 - 1553)
Andreas Christi famulus [5:43] 
Sancta Maria, Succurre miseris [5:06]
Clamabat autem mulier Chananea [3:48]
O sacrum convivium [6:16]
Regina caeli [2:35]
Jean MOUTON (before 1459 – 1522)
Queramus cum pastoribus [4:50]
Cristóbal de MORALES
Missa Queramus cum pastoribus [36:12]
Choir of Westminster Cathedral/James O’Donnell
rec. 24-27 November 1992, Westminster Cathedral, London. DDD
re-issue of Hyperion CDA66635, 1993.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55276 [65:25]
Experience Classicsonline

As John Milson writes in his excellent notes which accompany this issue, you’d be hard put to recognize Morales as a Spanish composer, so cosmopolitan is his language. And what a rich and varied language he uses!
 
Morales was thought to be the leading composer of his generation. He was born in Seville and studied with some of the foremost composers of the time. All that is known of his family is that he had a sister and his father died before her marriage in 1530. By 1535 Morales was a singer in the Papal Choir, in Rome, remaining there for the following decade in the employ of the Vatican. In his history of the papal choir and portraits and memoirs of the singers, Osservazioni per ben regolare il coro dei cantori della Cappella Pontificia (Rome, 1711), Andrea Adami da Bolsena (1663 – 1742) honoured him as the papal chapel’s most important composer between Josquin and Palestrina. Returning to his homeland, he held a string of posts, which were marked by financial or political problems. He was well known as one of Europe’s greatest composers, but was very unpopular as an employee and found it increasingly difficult to find work. It seems that he was well aware of his exceptional talent but was incapable of getting along with those of lesser abilities. He made extreme demands on his singers and was probably too arrogant with his employers and thus alienated them. On 4 September 1553 he requested that he be considered for the position of maestro de capilla at Toledo – he had worked there previously. He died shortly after, some time before 7 October, in Marchena in the province of Sevilla. I am grateful to various sites on the internet for helping me piece together the details of Morales’s life.
 
His output was prodigious – 22 Masses, over 100 motets, 18 settings of the Magnificat, five of the Lamentations of Jeremiah – and he considered the expression and understanding of the text to be the highest artistic goal.
 
The short motets which start this CD are comparatively simple affairs. All but Sancta Maria, Succurre miseris, which uses four voices, are scored for five voices, and their straightforward polyphony reminds one of Tallis in the easy placing of the voices.
 
The main work here is the parody mass Missa Queramus cum pastoribus based on Mouton’s motet, which precedes it on this disk. A parody mass does not mean that the music is in any way funny or satirical. It simply refers to the fact that the mass has been based on earlier material, sometimes by other composers. Palestrina wrote 55 parody masses. The found material doesn’t need to be sacred, but in a document dated 10 September 1562, the Council of Trent banned the use of secular material, stating “...let nothing profane be intermingled ... banish from church all music which contains, whether in the singing or the organ playing, things that are lascivious or impure." (Gustav Reese, Music in the Renaissance (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1954). Probably written for the papal choir, the mass is scored for five voices, with two bass parts which enrich the texture and allow Morales to create music of warmth and lavishness. It’s a complex work. Morales uses the original tune as if he were writing a set of variations, keeping the source material always in front of us but creating new, and sometimes surprising, edifices in sound.
 
The performances here are magnificent. The Westminster Cathedral Choir sound as if the music was created for them and sing even the most taxing music, with an ease and fluency which is quite breathtaking.
 
The recording is beautifully smooth and clear, giving a very good perspective of the choir within the Cathedral. This is a very exciting disk, containing some thrilling music by a composer whose star has waned somewhat in the past 200 years. Whether he knew it or not, he created a remarkable emotional experience in his work. If you love the music of Palestrina, Tallis and their contemporaries this is especially for you.
 
Bob Briggs
 
 


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