Was this CD really recorded in 2010? If so,
that’s an impressive turnaround from Gimell; I’m writing in the
second week of March and the CD has already been sitting on my
desk for a week. I notice the release date is 29 March (the start
of Holy Week), which is well timed for those buying the disc for
devotional observance. It just goes to show the advantages of
founding your own label, something the Tallis Scholars pioneered
with Gimell thirty years ago, and from which they are continuing
to benefit through the nimbleness of their - presumably small
- post-production team.
Victoria’s Lamentations of Jeremiah
don’t fit easily into
the standard image of Spanish renaissance polyphony; they’re not
as red-blooded, not as passionate. The main reason for this is
that they are intended for Holy Week, so Victoria is required
maintain absolute decorum throughout. The other reason they don’t
sound very Spanish is that they were written in Rome. They were
published in 1585 at the end of Victoria’s twenty year stint at
the Vatican. Intriguingly, Peter Phillips’ liner-note tells of
an earlier manuscript copy in the Sistine Chapel library, which
shows the works prior to some drastic tidying up for publication.
And the stylistic distance from Palestrina is surprising given
the dominance of the older composer in Rome at the time.
The Tallis Scholars approach the dichotomy of austerity and polyphony
by clearly articulating the polyphonic interaction, yet maintaining
a fairly flat vocal timbre, with the bare minimum of lyrical colour
or dynamic shading. The approach works well and suits the acoustic
of Merton College Chapel. Peter Phillips has said in recent interviews
that he considers the Merton Chapel acoustic ideal for vocal recording,
and I’d agree in this case. It’s quite dry for a church, and I
could imagine it sounding a little lifeless in more grandiose
polyphony, but it’s just about right here.
are performed at a steady pace throughout.
The effect is reverential without ever being sullen. Victoria
cleverly varies the texture, occasionally by adding contrapuntal
lines, but more often through doublings. The doubling of lines
adds to the sense of the counterpoint being reined back in deference
to the solemnity of the occasion. Some of the words are slightly
awkward, Lamentation III
, for example, opens with the very
nasal diphthong ‘IOD’, but the Tallis Scholars take all this in
their stride, their articulation impeccable throughout. Each of
ends with a ‘Jerusalem’, a setting of
the word in intricate polyphony; musically conclusive, but not
as final as an ‘Amen’.
The last work on the disc is a Lamentation for Maundy Thursday
by Juan Gutiêrrez de Padilla (c.1590-1664), one of the most famous
(Spanish) composers of Renaissance Mexico. It is more monolithic
in texture, with soprano phrases soaring over robust textures
from the other voices. The link with Victoria is more liturgical
than stylistic, but it is still a valuable extra and it stands
up well to the comparison with his esteemed predecessor.
It is interesting to note how credits for music editors have changed
since the Lionel Hawkins/Hyperion court case a few years ago.
The works are recorded ‘with the permission of’ the editors and
their publishers, the editors here John Dixon for the Victoria
and Bruno Turner for the Padilla. Even more intriguingly, the
latter’s publishers, Mapa Mundi, give their address as the Isle
of Lewis – is liturgical scholarship still fleeing the Vikings?
A sticker on the front of the box reminds us that Gimell are celebrating
anniversary this year. The musical and technical
quality of this disc - if not necessarily its subject matter -
make it the ideal way for the company to celebrate this milestone.
Inside the cover is an advertisement for the company’s website:
where you can purchase anything from their catalogue in various
download formats. I’m still a CD loyalist myself, but I notice
they are offering 24 bit, 96 kHz surround 5.1 downloads, and I’m
interested. That is a considerably step above CD audio, and with
recordings of this quality it should be well worth checking out.
see also review by John