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Tomaso da VITTORIA [Tomás Luís de Victoria] (1548 - 1611)
O quam gloriosum (1572) [3.21]
Missa O quam gloriosum (1583) [27.25]
Iste Sanctus (1585) [2.03]
Gaudent in coelis (1585) [2.08]
Sancta Maria, succure miseris (1572) [3.37]
Senex puerum portabat (1572) [3.08]
O magnum mysterium (1572) [3.00]
O sacrum convivium (1572) [3.22]
Vere languores (1572) [3.36]
O vos omnes (1572) [3.34]
Tristes errant apostolic (1581) [4.23]
Te Deum (1581) [10.49]
Veni, creator spiritus (1581) [6.52]
Il Convitto Armonico/Stefano Buschini
rec. March/April 2007 - Convent of Santa Maria del Mare, Castellazzo, La Spezia, Italy
TACTUS TC 552902 [69.12] 
Experience Classicsonline

Il Convitto Armonico is an Italian vocal ensemble which specialises in early music, and comprises singers from Italian conservatories. It was formed in 1990 by Stefano Buschini and Marco Montanelli. Their recording of Victoria's Missa O Quam Gloriosum is their third disc. They released a disc of music by Lorenzo Perosi in 2000 and another of music by Marc'Antonio Ingegneri in 2003. New to me; I suspect that they will be new to many people.

The choir comprises seventeen singers (four soprano, four alto, four tenor and five basses), with women on the top two lines. They make a rich, vibrant sound and though they use more vibrato than a comparable English choir, the results are not excessive. In fact, this combined with the dark, virile sound made by the altos results in a rather special sound. Their performance of polyphony is vibrant and robust, but with still a decent feeling for line. I imagine that they would be the ideal ensemble for those Italian friends of mine who complain that English groups sound far too pallid in this repertoire, even if they can be admired for their polished musicality.

It would be easy to point up places where the recordings by such groups as Westminster Cathedral or Kings College Cambridge show a more finely honed musicality, but that would be missing the point. This is an account of Victoria's mass which is notable for its vibrant richness and the robust vividness with which the group portrays the counterpoint. This is especially true when you consider that two of the major recordings in the catalogue use boys on the top line - the top two lines in the case of Westminster Cathedral.

The disc opens with the plainchant O quam gloriosum followed by the motet and then the Mass based on the motet. The motet was published in 1572, whilst Victoria was working in Rome at the German College. The mass was published in 1583 in a volume whose introduction presented Victoria's request to King Philip of Spain that he be transferred back to Spain. This request was granted and the King named Victoria Chaplain to his sister Empress Maria.

On their recent disc of Victoria's Missa Gaudeamus, the Lay Clerks of Westminster Cathedral surround the mass with the all the relevant plainchant propers for the Feast of the Assumption. On this disc Il Convitto Armonico take a different route and provide us with a selection of Victoria's motets and hymns.

The motets include such familiar items as O Magnum Mysterium, but also rarer items like Iste sanctus which receives its first recording here. Amongst the hymns, both Tristes eran apostolic and the Te deum receive their first recordings. The three hymns (the third being Veni, creator spiritus) come from Victoria's extensive writings for the vespers service, where polyphony alternates with plainchant. He shows his imagination by writing striking but approachable settings which develop from germs of plainchant.

The group varies the line-up during the motets and hymns to provide variations in texture. The first five motets are sung tutti. But O sacrum convivium is sung by the women's voices, Vere languores by the men's voices and O vos omnes by just four men. These show the sort of control of which the group is capable and provide a necessary contrast to the vigour and robustness which characterises much of their work.

I must add here a note about the sound quality of the tenor line. Stefano Baldi who sings the top tenor line is described on the choir's web-site as being a counter-tenor and tenor. This means that in the items where he sings the top line, his voice has a distinctly low counter-tenor sound rather than an over-stretched tenor. This makes the all-male items all the more welcome and seems to add to the choir's flexibility in the middle lines for the tutti items.

The CD booklet contains an article on Victoria and his music, along with texts in Latin. Though the texts detail exactly who is singing when - which is very useful - they fail to provide translations so you might need to dig around the internet for these.

None of the British mixed voice choirs have taken up this mass, which seems strange. So if you would like to have the mass sung by women's voices then this disc is for you, though Il Convitto Armonico paints the music in far more vivid colours than you might be used to. Similarly, if you already have the Kings or the Westminster recording, then think about getting this one as well - it provides a welcome contrast.

This is highly desirable and provides a welcome touch of warmth and vibrancy of tone to one of Victoria's loveliest masses.

Robert Hugill



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