O Virgo Benedicta - Music of Marian Devotion from Spain’s Century of Gold
Juan NAVARRO (c.1530-1580) Regina caeli [3:42]
Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599) Maria Magdalene [7:59]; Ave Virgo sanctissima [3:53]; Pastores loquebantur [6:53]; Agnus Dei from Missa Sancta et immaculata [3:31]
Alonso LOBO (1555-1617) Kyrie from Missa Maria Magdalene [3:59]; Ave Regina caelorum [3:37]; Sanctus from Missa Maria Magdalene [2:51]; Benedictus from Missa Maria Magdalene [2:47]
Juan ESQUIVEL (c.1561-1615?) Gloria from Missa Ave Virgo sanctissima [5:15]
Rodrigo CEBALLOS (1530?-1581) O Virgo Benedicta [5:06]
Juan ESQUIVEL (c.1561-1615?) Credo from Missa Ave Virgo sanctissima [9:49]
Sebastián de VIVANCO (c.1551-1622) O sacrum convivium [4:06]; Magnificat Primi Toni [11:34]
The Marian Consort/Rory McCleery
rec. 10-12 January 2010, Wadham College Chapel, Oxford DDD
Latin texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34086 [75:10]

The Marian Consort is a group of six singers – two sopranos, counter-tenor, tenor, baritone and bass. Formed at Oxford University in 2007, they specialise in music of the Renaissance and Baroque eras and they perform, as here, under the direction of counter-tenor, Rory McCleery. This, I believe, is their recording debut and it’s an auspicious one.

The programme is shrewdly chosen and in his excellent booklet note Bruno Turner brings out the connections between several of the featured composers without labouring the point. It will be noted that the sections of the Ordinary of the Mass run through the programme but, intriguingly, Rory McCleery has devised a composite approach, bringing in movements from three separate Mass settings. Further interest is provided by the decision to juxtapose some of the Mass movements with the motets which inspired the composition of the Masses. So, for example, Lobo’s Mass setting is based on Guerrero’s motet Maria Magdalene.

Throughout the whole programme the singing of the Marian Consort is very precise and controlled and the ensemble is well balanced. One is left in no doubt that here is a group of singers who are used to working with each other and who blend their voices and their musical natures together as by instinct. There is a great deal to admire in the precision of their tuning and the purity of tone. I must admit that my own preference is for the greater tonal richness that a slightly larger consort – perhaps two to a part – can provide in this music. However, I still gained a great deal of pleasure from listening to this flawlessly executed programme.

I’ve already referred to Guerrero’s Maria Magdalene. This is an Easter piece, a very fine composition, and it’s performed here with splendid conviction. I don’t recall hearing previously O Virgo Benedicta by Ceballos but it’s an impressive piece, sung here with a dignified fervour that matches the music itself. Lobo’s Ave Regina caelorum is another impressive offering. The performance is characterised by control and poise but McCleery and his colleagues aren’t afraid to invest the music with vibrancy and they’re right to do so.

The last two pieces on the programme present a nice contrast. Guerrero’s Pastores loquebantur is a joyful Christmas piece, which is delivered with conviction and vitality; the closing Alleluias have a delightful exuberance. After this the Agnus Dei from the same composer’s Missa Sancta et immaculata offers a pleasingly reflective close.

The recording presents the singers quite close up but Paul Baxter’s engineering achieves what I’d call an intimate clarity. As I said, this is a most auspicious disc. Great care has gone into the planning and execution of this disc and it should give great pleasure.

John Quinn

An auspicious debut disc from a fine British vocal consort.