This is a sheer delight. It will certainly feature strongly in
my next Download Roundup, for August 2009, but that is a month
away at the time of writing and I didn’t want to delay writing
this review. It will almost certainly feature as the download
of the month, even if something else comes along to share the
honour. I can’t imagine that I shall review any CD or download
in the next month more deserving.
Without in the least yielding my love of Josquin
and Palestrina as the masters of renaissance polyphony, I
have to admit that Victoria has always run them pretty close
in my estimation, ever since I heard one of his settings sung
– not very well, it must be admitted – at High Mass in Toledo
Cathedral many years ago.
I’ve always thought that British choirs did Victoria
better justice than those Spanish singers, even though, as
a Spaniard who made good in Italy – hence the change of name
from Vittoria to Victoria – the Toledo choristers ought theoretically
to be more in tune with his style. Listen to the recording
of Victoria’s Requiem by the choir of Montserrat, formerly
on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, and, unless you have a very tolerant
ear, you will not find the singing easy to live with.
Over the years, however, various compromises have
been struck between the styles of Southern European and English
choirs: for example, the numerous recordings made for the
Decca Oiseau Lyre label in the 1960s and 1970s by the Choir
of the Carmelite Priory, London, under the direction of Edgar
Fleet and John McCarthy, some of which may still be around.
A good example is their recording of Palestrina’s Missa
Sine Nomine and Missa Ecce ego Johannes (475 8717);
though this recording is still well worth hearing, it seems
to have been deleted almost as soon as it was reissued, but
it remains available as a download in good 320 kbps mp3 sound
Soon afterwards, Westminster Cathedral Choir began
to take over this blend of the two traditions with great success;
under successive directors of music they have made a number
of successful recordings for Hyperion, including several of
Victoria’s music – Missa O quam gloriosum and Missa
Ave maris stella under David Hill (CDA66114) and Missa
Dum complerentur, etc., under James O’Donnell (CDA66886)
to name but two of the most successful. The new recording
deserves to join them.
There already exists a highly praised recording
of Victoria’s Missa Gaudeamus, coupled with the Missa
pro Victoria and motets (The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew
Carwood, ASV CDGAU198). On that well-filled disc you get more
Victoria for your money and, if that’s what you want, it remains
strongly recommendable. What the new Hyperion recording offers
is not an attempt to reconstruct, McCreesh-style, any actual
occasion when Victoria’s music was used for the feast of the
Assumption, merely a glimpse of what might have been, combining
the Missa Gaudeamus with the plainchant propers of
that feast and music by his younger contemporary, Frescobaldi.
Very effective it is, too.
I’ve now listened to the recording right through
several times without any cause for complaint. Even the chant
sections are brought to life by these singers and I can’t
imagine the sections of Victoria’s Mass being better sung.
All this is done with the art which conceals art – there’s
never any sense of striving for a virtuoso performance. If
this is a shorter review than usual, that’s because there
really is nothing to criticise.
Having missed out on the review CD, I knew that
I had to get my hands on the recording and, for the sake of
speed, I downloaded it from iTunes on the very first day that
the CD and download were released. The 256 kbps download is
good enough to do justice to the very fine recording, with
everything at just the right distance from the listener.
Very clumsily, I managed to delete half the tracks
after I’d downloaded them. An appeal to iTunes resulted in
a very prompt restoration of the whole recording.
Hyperion’s accompanying material is, as usual,
excellent; it can all be downloaded free from their website,
where you can also listen to some extracts if you can’t decide
whether to buy. The notes, by Jon Dixon, are detailed and
informative. One small niggle: the translators can’t decide
whether to use the old-style language of the Book of Common
Prayer or contemporary language. Some of the translations
are rather creative and don’t correspond to either the 1662
Prayer Book or the modern versions employed in Anglican and
Roman Catholic usage.
Download or CD, my recommendation is to buy this