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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Francisco de PEÑALOSA (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 cælorum [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/Bruno Turner
rec. 9-11 October 1991. Venue not stated. DDD.
Texts and translations included. From CDA66574
Experience Classicsonline

As so often, I’m not sure whether to be more amazed that I let so many excellent Hyperion recordings pass me by when they were first issued or that they are now on offer so inexpensively. Having missed out on the review copy of this CD, I purchased it online for significantly less than £6, including post and packing.

I’m particularly surprised that I missed this Peñalosa CD; it’s not as if the reviews of the original release weren’t very favourable; Pro Cantione Antiqua had already produced some excellent recordings of renaissance and baroque music and recordings of Peñalosa’s music, then as now, weren’t exactly thick on the ground.

There’s a rival recording of Sancta Maria on a Gothic Voices CD from 1993, The Voice in the Garden, also recently reissued on the Helios label (CDH55298 - see my review and review by Robert Hugill) and one of Sancta Mater on another Helios CD, Sacred and Secular Music from Six Centuries (Hilliard Ensemble, CDH55148). The only recording completely devoted to Peñalosa also comes from Hyperion, at full price: the Masses Ave Maria, peregrina and Nunca fue peña mayor, with Sacris solemniis (Westminster Cathedral, CDA66629, Archive service only, though some online dealers still seem to have copies).

That a composer of Peñalosa’s stature should be so under-represented is a great shame. I can’t argue with Bruno Turner’s assertion in the notes that he was ‘Spain’s greatest composer of sacred music around 1500.’ After all, many of his contemporaries regarded him as the Iberian equivalent of Josquin; perhaps The Tallis Scholars would consider slotting a recording of Peñalosa into their current run of Josquin recordings.

Don’t expect too much drama. Even the setting of the crucifixion motets In passion positus Jesus (tr.13) and Deus, qui manus tuas ... in lingo crucis posuisti (tr.20) are beautiful but a little unimpassioned. Nor should you expect the light and delicate setting of words from the Song of Songs, Nigra sum, sed formosa (tr.8) to match what Monteverdi makes of them, or the plain chordal setting of Ave verum corpus (tr.7) to equal the intensity of the more famous settings by Byrd and Mozart.

On the other hand, though there are several penitential texts in the programme, from the very first track, Inter vestibulum et altare, a text associated with Ash Wednesday, neither the music nor the performance is lugubrious. The music on this reissue may be a little unvaried by comparison with a recording of settings of the mass, but that’s the only criticism that I can make - and it’s been anticipated in Bruno Turner’s notes, where he advises against listening to all 22 tracks at once. The more adventurous may consider ripping the tracks to a hard drive recorder and making their own programme, combining the motets with other renaissance polyphonic music. Turner notes the similarity of some of Peñalosa’s music to that of the English composers of the period, so a programme interspersing some of these motets with music from the Eton Choirbook might be interesting.

If the music is a little unvaried, it’s all of a very high standard - perfect late-night listening - and the performances are excellent. It’s almost impossible to single out a particular motet, but it’s possible to sample them all and download the booklet of notes on the Hyperion website.

Some of the members of Pro Cantione Antiqua had been around for a while in 1991, but their singing is none the worse for that. Others, like Michael Chance and Michael George, would go on to make many more distinguished recordings for Hyperion and others.

The booklet is a straight reissue of the full-price original. Bruno Turner’s notes are a little shorter than those in some Hyperion booklets, but they are more than adequate. At least it’s possible to get the booklet back into the case; some Hyperion booklets are so full that they are hard to reinsert without tearing. The translations are idiomatic, though they make a strange blend of traditional biblical (‘what will you have me do unto you?’) and modern language. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, who wishes none to perish’ (Domine Jesu Christe, qui neminem vis perire) falls awkwardly between the traditional (‘who wishest’) and the preferred form in modern Roman Catholic and Anglican translations, ‘you wish’. (But, then, the author of the prayer broke the rule that was hammered into me, never to use the oblique cases of nemo, but to use nullius, etc.: ‘never, never let me say neminis and nemine’.)

Several other recordings by Pro Cantione Antiqua, mostly directed by Brunto Turner, are well worth considering, some of them even less expensive than this Helios reissue:
•  Tears and Lamentations (early and late Tudor music, Regis RRC1259);
•  Byrd Four-part Mass, etc (Regis RRC1226);
•  Lassus Lamentations (Regis RRC1123 - see review; or RRC4002 - see review);
•  Lassus Music for Easter; Requiem (Regis RRC1124 - see review);
•  Palestrina Lamentations (Regis RRC1038);
•  Palestrina Song of Songs (Hyperion Helios CDH55095);
•  Palestrina Missa Papæ Marcelli, etc. (Regis RRC1025 or Brilliant Classics 99711) ;
•  Schütz Motets (Regis RRC1168 - see review)
•  Medieval Christmas (Alto ALC1004)
•  Allegri Miserere, etc (Regis RRC1065 - see review)

The Regis CDs originate from ASV originals, the Alto from an IMP release; both series are at super-budget price. Some or all of the recordings on this list plus, of course, the new Helios reissue, could form the inexpensive basis of a really fine collection of renaissance and baroque music. I can vouch personally for most of the earlier incarnations of those covered by Musicweb reviews, and for all those which haven’t received Musicweb reviews.

But above all, buy this Peñalosa reissue. If enough of us do so, maybe Hyperion will be encouraged to bring their other Peñalosa recording out of retirement and reissue it, too, on the Helios label. Keep an eye, too, on the Hyperion website for half-price offers of CDs which have not been purchased for some time; in recent weeks some very highly thought of recordings have been on offer; don’t let this Peñalosa reissue find its way there.

Brian Wilson 


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