This is a sumptuous and uplifting CD of unaccompanied vocal music
by the Renaissance Spanish composer, Francisco de Peñalosa. 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 Peñalosa 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 Peñalosa, 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 Peñalosa'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
Since only a couple of pieces
last more than four minutes, the challenge was to reproduce
the stature and rhetoric which Peñalosa'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
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'. Peñalosa'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 Peñalosa'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 Peñalosa's manuscripts and sources.
It ends with the sentiment, '…we hope to have revealed a hidden
treasure of great value'. They have!
see also Review
by Brian Wilson