Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611)
Lamentations of Jeremiah
Lamentation I for Maundy Thursday [6:20]
Lamentation II for Maundy Thursday [5:42]
Lamentation III for Maundy Thursday [6:19]
Lamentation I for Good Friday [4:01]
Lamentation II for Good Friday [5:35]
Lamentation III for Good Friday [4:51]
Lamentation I for Holy Saturday [5:13]
Lamentation II for Holy Saturday [5:53]
Lamentation III for Holy Saturday [8:24]
Juan Gutiêrrez de PADILLA (c.1590-1664)
Lamentations for Maundy Thursday [11:48]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
rec. Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, 2010, DDD. Stereo
GIMELL GIMCD043 [64:08]

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.

The Lamentations 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 the Lamentations 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 their 30th 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.

Gavin Dixon