Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (c.1548-1611)
Motet, Dum complerentur [5:42]
Missa Dum complerentur [29:52]
Missa Simile est regnum coelorumitem [23:28]
Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
rec. Dorchester Abbey, Oxford, England, 12-13 July 1993. DDD
NIMBUS NI5434 [59:02]
Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611) was an innovator in that he introduced the styles developed by the Italian, Palestrina (1525/1526-1594) into his native Iberian peninsula. It's probable that the younger composer studied with the older one while in Rome. Indeed, it was during Victoria's extended stay in Rome that he wrote the main work on this CD, the Mass, Dum complerentur dies Pentecostes.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Victoria's work was nearly all published during his lifetime, and was duly celebrated then too. He composed a total of twenty masses, of which the bulk (15) are 'parody masses'. The term 'parody' does not imply satire at all; simply that their musical material is derived from one (or rarely more) pre-existing source(s) … usually a motet or chanson. That's the case with each of the two Masses included on this CD. The motet (by Victoria) on which Dum complerentur the Mass itself is based prefaces it, on track 1. That (by Guerrero) for the Mass, Simile est regnum coelorumitem, is not provided here for contrast, even though the CD lasts under an hour.
Each of the seven (there are two Agnus Dei movements) segments of Dum complerentur is based upon a different arrangement of the two phrases which begin the motet. The way Simile est regnum coelorumitem develops is simpler.
The intonation, articulation and textures arrived at by Christ Church Cathedral Choir throughout all the music on this CD are straightforward, transparent and crisp enough for all aspects of this lovely music to make their impact. The upper lines are perhaps a little thin and brighter than might be wished. On the other hand, the tempi and expressive phrasing are well-judged and allow Victoria's beautiful confluence of melody and harmony to make their effect on all levels. The sense of matching pauses and continuities and architecture to tonality in the Gloria of Dum complerentur [tr.3], for example, is typically clear and persuasive.
Similarly the sense of serenity and peace which the choir achieves in singing Simile est regnum coelorumitem is palpable. The tempi are slow while not being languorous; the sense of space for the musical ideas to breathe is created - then respected - admirably. Listen to the intonation by soloists of the theme at the start of each movement. No hurry. Yet a feeling of gentle and dignified declamation that sets the pace for the movement that follows. The choir brings the listener with it in a most satisfying way. In neither mass, though, do the singers 'dawdle'. Listen to the pace at which the credo of Simile est regnum [tr.11] is taken. No urgency; but appropriate urging.
There is one comparable recording only of the Mass, Dum Complerentur by the Westminster Cathedral Choir under James O'Donnell on Hyperion [66886]. This CD has the only recording of the Mass, Simile est regnum coelorumitem, in the current catalogue. This makes the offering particularly enticing. The acoustic (Dorchester Abbey, Oxford) is moderately roomy; though maybe a little greater reverberation would have worked too. The booklet is minimal - although it does contain the texts.
Mark Sealey
An above average account of two of Victoria's parody masses is sung with style and conviction by accomplished specialists, Oxford's Christ Church Cathedral Choir with Stephen Darlington.