Hyperion's series of Westminster Cathedral Choir reissues just
keeps getting better and better. Victoria is core repertoire
for the ensemble, and they sing it as well as anybody. In fact,
the performances here are superior even to the recent Palestrina
reissues in the same series, which is saying something, because
they too are about the best recordings of that composer's work
you'll find anywhere.
If you have heard any recording of the Westminster Cathedral
Choir before, then you'll know what you are getting. The way
they are able to clearly articulate the counterpoint, while
always maintaining an even tone, sets them apart. The tuning
of the boy's voices is an occasional problem in these recordings,
but not here; an organist is credited so perhaps he helped keep
the pitch but you don't hear a peep from him on the recording.
Also, the clarity of the inner parts is sometimes compromised
on other discs, but again there is no sign of that problem in
The main piece on the programme is the Missa Trahe me post
te, as good a mass as any from Victoria's catalogue. It
is a parody mass, based quite loosely on his motet of the same
name, which opens the programme. The mass is in six parts, although
apart from the Agnus Dei it is effectively written in five.
Not the most expansive of Renaissance choral writing then, but
the choir sing it for all it is worth, lending weight and depth
to the textures, and without over-complicating the simpler ones.
They leave the best until last. The disc concludes with five
antiphons, two for five voices and three for eight. It is these
eight-part double choir works that impress most. The penultimate
track, Salve Regina, has it all. It starts with just
a single boy's voice, before gradually opening out to include
the whole of one of the choirs. Later sections introduce the
two choir textures, and various forms of interplay, both grand
and intimate. It is like a catalogue of the contrapuntal techniques
of 16th century choral music. Needless to say, the
performance is superlative.
A highly thought of disc then, especially at this budget price.
Palestrina is the biggest name in choral music from this period,
and Hyperion's Westminster Cathedral Choir reissues have so
far been dominated by the more famous Italian's work. Victoria
complements Palestrina well, perhaps not as grand or imposing,
but in these recordings, the balance between the individual
lines of the counterpoint and the overall effect is more stimulating.
Simpler textures are perhaps the key, but that is not to say
that Victoria's music is simple. Direct is perhaps a better
word, and in this recording that directness shines through,
imbuing the myriad contrapuntal devices with focus and meaning.