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Francisco de PEŅALOSA (c.1470-1528)
The Complete Motets
Inter Vestibulum Et Altare [2:38]
Tribularer, Si Nescirem [2:58]
Ne Reminiscaris, Domine [2:01]
Versa Est In Luctum [2:55]
Domine, Secundum Actum Meum [2:24]
Adoro Te, Domine Jesu Christe [2:11]
Ave Verum Corpus [2:41]
Nigra Sum, Sed Formosa [2:40]
Sancta Maria [2:33]
Unica Est Columba Mea [2:26]
Ave, Vera Caro Christi [3:24]
Ave, Vere Sanguis Domini [2:33]
In Passione Positus [3:33]
Precor Te, Domine Jesu Christe [3:42]
Pater Noster [3:11]
Ave Regina Caelorum [4:09]
Sancta Mater Istud Agas [3:00]
O Domina Sanctissima [3:53]
Emendemus In Melius [2:37]
Deus, Qui Manus Tuas [4:16]
Domine Jesu Christe, Qui Neminem [2:46]
Transeunte Domino Jesu [3:08]
Pro Cantione Antiqua (Michael Chance (counter-tenor); Timothy Penrose (counter-tenor); James Griffett (tenor); Ian Partridge (tenor); Stephen Roberts (baritone); Michael George (bass); Adrian Peacock (bass))/Bruno Turner
rec. 9-11 October, 1991, England? DDD


Experience Classicsonline

This is a sumptuous and uplifting CD of unaccompanied vocal music by the Renaissance Spanish composer, Francisco de Peņalosa. He lived from about 1470 to 1528, which means that he's a contemporary of Janequin, Taverner, Gombert and Morales. For every strain of purity in the music of these latter, that of Peņalosa shows a serenity and confidence which will delight - especially if it's new to you. The fact that there is only one other CD in the current catalogue dedicated to Peņalosa, albeit much more recent - from 2004 - the Missa In Granada with Dominique Vellard and the Cantus Chamber Formation on Christophorus 77263 - makes this Helios reissue very attractive.

The composers of the Spanish Renaissance were influenced by their Flemish counterparts. Working at the great courts in the royal chapels of Ferdinand and Isabella, and for the choirs of the eminent cathedrals at Toledo and Seville, they were able to evolve an expansive and consummately self-assured style which is strikingly unique. Turner and Pro Cantione Antiqua were obviously at pains to capture and reproduce the equability and grace of Peņalosa's music on this welcome set of finely-tuned performances. Their tempi are, for the most part, slow and measured without being either deliberate or stultified.

Since only a couple of pieces last more than four minutes, the challenge was to reproduce the stature and rhetoric which Peņalosa's style exhibits. And to do so without losing the emotional tautness. The Ave Verum Corpus [tr.7], for example, is an immensely moving piece: emotion is to the fore and barely restrained. And then it's present in the quietly touching Sancta Mater Istud Agas [tr.17], which ends gently - almost fades.

Yet the singers' engagement does not allow the melody of such motets to be subverted into gratuitous grief. Rather, their singing implies and explains how and why such feelings at that moment in the devotional experience should be so real and fervent. At the same time Pro Cantione Antiqua achieves a lightness of touch which suggests grace and delicacy every bit as strongly as they suggest conviction. Yet without a hint at idiosyncrasy. This is a powerful mix.

And quite an accomplishment when you remember where the debates about authenticity stood twenty years ago. Turner explains that he has made no explicit claims to authenticity in fashioning this recording. Yet one knows that at the same time he has stinted from overlaying his own, or the singers', personalities or interpretative preoccupations onto the music. Purity again without being insipid.

Perhaps the best way to describe how Turner and his forces achieve this is to think of an accomplished singer reflecting on longing in a Schubert Lied, or on lost love in a Verdi aria. In those cases we usually take the genres as 'fabricated'. Peņalosa's idiom aims to convey more universal, and universally-generated, emotions. Pro Cantione Antiqua communicates them by employing real gravitas, a studied detachment, almost. Yet with as much study as detachment!

We know enough about Peņalosa's life to be sure that he worked at first as a singer himself in Aragon; then at Seville; and spent time in Rome. He wrote almost exclusively sacred music… masses, mass movements, hymns and motets. We hear the surviving entirety of the latter on this CD. Although Turner recommends treating the CD as an anthology into which to dip and sample, it's good to have the 22 motets whose authorship is not usually disputed collected like this.

 The quality of the recording is good. Although the location is not given, the acoustic is appropriately resonant and the atmosphere sedate and serious without being grave. The booklet is up to Hyperion's usual standards and contains the texts in Latin with parallel English as well as a short introductory essay by Turner written in 1992. This is particularly valuable as to the provenance and current whereabouts of Peņalosa's manuscripts and sources. It ends with the sentiment, '…we hope to have revealed a hidden treasure of great value'. They have!

Mark Sealey 

see also Review by Brian Wilson





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