Have you ever asked yourself which composers
of the dim and distant past you would like to have met? Well,
being a bit 'sad', as my sons say, I would love to have had a
conversation or a composition lesson with Guerrero. I would have
asked him about his trip to the Holy Land in 1588/9 when he was
already an old man and his other consequent adventures, for example
being robbed by pirates - twice. I have never found a modern copy
of his biography but do recall Radio 3 asking Robert Hardy to
read sections of it a decade ago, I think in two programmes. Quite
a yarn it is too and the composer’s simple faith and amazement
at the sights he saw have lived on with me.
In recent times Hyperion has adopted a practice in renaissance music of placing the Mass setting before the motet on which it is based. I know that one can programme a CD in any order one chooses but this practice is a little odd and it would be good to know the reason. Anyway it’s worth getting to know Crecquillon's motet Congratulamini mihi
before listening to the mass which, incidentally, is one of three by Guerrero based on motets by others. The text chimes in with the concept surrounding the CD and concerns Mary Magdalene’s arrival at the tomb on Easter Morning: “Rejoice with me, all ye who love the Lord/for he whom I sought has appeared to me”. There are three elements which need to be taken on board. First the fanfare-like awakening idea. Second there’s the contrasting second verse, ‘They have taken away my Lord from the tomb” which includes a section about weeping described in a very peremptory way with some simple scalic passages. Finally the predominantly bright major-mode, well suited to the season, is used almost throughout.
The Mass is for SSATB - the motet for SATBB – and is in the usual six sections taking the Benedictus as a separate entity. Unlike the motet and the following ones it is performed two to a part. It’s debatable whether Guerrero expected to hear it like this or even, as in the motets, one to a part. It’s probably best for now not to go down that line.
It is the bright and exultant mood of the mass which really imposes itself on the listener and indeed it should do for the octave of Easter. The two soprano parts especially lift the texture as opposed to the two bass parts in the motet. The fanfaring figure is heard in the Gloria. The falling scalic passages mentioned above for “weeping” are rarely used: listen to the central ‘Et Incarnatus’ where we hear a semblance of them. The performance captures the mood brilliantly and I found myself wondering if they had ever performed the Mass live. The sopranos, Carys Lane and Cecilia Osmund, Amy Haworth and Rebecca Hickey (some heard on so many CDs of early music) are basically without noticeable vibrato but could not be mistaken for boys, A friend listening with me thought their tone quality curiously thin, I turned down the treble quite a bit and the sound warmed up. Perhaps the Fitzalan Chapel acoustic - a beautiful medieval building at the back of the parish church - is a little brittle.
The six remaining motets are headed up by two in honour of Mary Magdalene. As Andrew Carwood comments in his informative and helpful booklet notes (with full texts) these two composers “belong to the world of the madrigal” of which Guerrero wrote many very fine ones. The first Dum Esset rex
for men’s voices in four parts is brief and tells of Magdalene and the jar of ointment. The joyous second Maria Magdalena et altera Maria
in five parts tells of Mary and the women visiting the tomb on Easter morning. For the week following Easter and the appearance to Thomas we have the moving motet Post dies octo
in five parts; curiously it omits altos.
The disc ends with two contrasting double-choir motets. The sonorous Ave Maria
, a joyous setting in the major mode, contrasts with the minor mode four part Regina Caeli
“Queen of Heaven Rejoice’. Each takes plainchant as its basis. This is also available on a Westminster cathedral disc (Hyperion CDA66168 ‘Treasures of the Spanish Renaissance’ with a full choir and boys singing the upper part). The booklet notes are not clear about dates for any of these pieces but Guerrero was supervising the publication of various books in 1589 and later. I feel that that the first Regina Caeli
may well be an early piece whereas Post dies
could be much later. Carwood writes about “the approaching style of Monteverdi especially towards the end of the first section”.
It’s marvellous that the Cardinall’s Musick took time out as it were from their vast and now widely acclaimed series of Byrd’s church music to record Guerrero. They will not disappoint.