Tomas Luis de VICTORIA (1548 – 1611)
Salve Regina (1576) [11.32]
O sacrum convivium (1572) [4.11]
O Ildephonse (1600) [3.02]
Duo seraphim clamabant (1583) [4.00]
Quam pulchri sunt (1572) [4.28]
Magnificat (1600) [8.32]
Super Flumina Babylonis (1576) [5.23]
Domine, no sum dignus (1583) [3.32]
Beati immaculati [2.57]
Sancta Maria (1572) [4.25]
O sacrum convivium (1572) [4.44]
Senex puerum portabat (1572) [3.23]
Ave Maria (1572) [5.04]
Pro Cantione Antiqua
London Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble/Bruno Turner
rec. St. Alban’s Church, Holborn, London, 19-23 June 1978
DAS ALTE WERK 2564 68361-7 [65.12]

The line-up for this recording is impressive in itself and almost a reason for acquiring the disc. Recorded in 1978, the choir includes James Bowman, Paul Esswood, Ian Partridge, Stephen Roberts, David Thomas, Ian Caddy and Christopher Keyte. The group were one of the foremost British a cappella choral groups before the Tallis Scholars and their recordings were hugely influential. There is a particular Pro Cantione Antiqua sound, which this disc captures. Generally they sing one voice to a part, with voices that are richly expressive and well differentiated. You get the sense of a group of people singing individual lines, with individual expression but coming together into a whole. It is this feeling for line, with each voice differentiated, that distinguishes the group. Whilst not as vibrant and highly coloured as some of the more recent continental performers, the group’s sound is anything but white.

On this disc the main core of seventeen singers, plus Andrew van der Beek on bass dulcian and bassoon and Geoffrey Mitchell and Alan Cuckston on organs, comes together in various different combinations of singers ranging from two choirs, organ and bass dulcian to two counter-tenors and two tenors.

The Spanish were renowned falsettists and it is quite reasonable, in historic terms, to perform this sort of music with an all-male adult group. The addition of a bass dulcian on some numbers, to strengthen the low bass part, was evidently common practice in Spain at this period.

What we have is a wonderful selection of Victoria’s motets, plus a Magnificat. The majority of Victoria’s sacred motets come from his first published collection, which came out in 1572 when he was working at the Collegio Germanico in Rome. On this disc six of the motets come from this collection including the glorious double choir Ave Maria which concludes the disc; the organ part comes from the 1600 edition of the work. Two motets (Salve Regina and Super Flumina Babylonis) come from Victoria's 1576 collection which included Masses, Psalms and Magnificats. There are further motets from the 1583 collection of motets and a final couple from the 1600 collection, published in Madrid, which included some nineteen pieces from earlier collections.

Victoria wrote at a time when composers were, to a certain extent, circumscribed by the Council of Trent (1545–1563), with the requirements that words should be audible and that composers should avoid secular models. The clarity and dignity with which the exponents of this style articulated the text gave rise to new models, whose master was Palestrina. Victoria’s style is indebted to Palestrina, but he is very much his own man. Victoria seems to have written no secular music, but his thematic material can be rather lighter than that of Palestrina. There is something about the way Victoria lays out his parts, often spacing them out, which marks out his own distinctive sound-world. The majority of this music might have been written in Italy (Victoria did not return to Spain until 1587), but it sounds Spanish.

This disc seems to be a distillation of Pro Cantione Antiqua’s three LP set Spanish Renaissance Church music, in which the music of Victoria was interspersed with music by his contemporaries such as Guerrero. The impetus behind the original set was Robert Stevenson’s book ‘Spanish Cathedral Music in the Golden Age’.

Frankly, I think this collection wonderful and wouldn’t be without it. I love the sound that the group makes and would totally deny that there is any degree of monotony in listening to thirteen motets by Victoria, sung in quick succession, all with counter-tenors singing their top lines. But I have to accept that not everyone will agree with my view. The problem is that I haven’t come across many other collections of Victoria motets. Most other groups combine Victoria’s motets with one or more of his masses.

The CD booklet includes a short essay about Victoria’s music but, crucially, there are no texts.

I wouldn’t want to be without this collection, but not everyone will take to Victoria sung one-to-a-part by an all-male group. But do try it. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Robert Hugill

Do try this. I don’t think you will be disappointed.