Santiago a cappella - Polyphony from Spain’s Golden Age
Libre Vermeil de Montserrat Mariam Matrem Virginem [4:44]
Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599) Ave Virgo sanctissima [5:33]; Duo Seraphim [5:18]
Alonso LOBO (1555-1617) Lamentationes Ieremiae Prophetae [21:39]; Versa est in luctum [6:51]
John IV of Portugal (1604-1656) Crux Fidelis [4:14]
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611) O lux et decus Hispaniae [4:13]; O vos omnes [6:17]
Manuel CARDOSO (1566-1650) Non mortui qui sunt in inferno [5:49]
Philippe ROGIER (c 1561-1596) Salva nos, Domine [1:59]
The Monteverdi Choir/Sir John Eliot Gardiner
rec. 30 April–2 May 2004, St. Alban the Martyr, Holborn, London
Latin texts, English, French, German translations included

The Monteverdi Choir’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage of 2000 has acquired a justly-deserved fame amongst music-lovers. Not quite so well known, perhaps, is a second pilgrimage that the choir undertook four years later.

In the summer of 2004, to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Monteverdi Choir, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his singers followed the route of el camino de Santiago, the pilgrim journey from southwest France, over the Pyrenees and across northern Spain to the shrine of St James at Compostella. Along the way they gave a series of concerts of music from the Golden Age of Iberian polyphony. The repertoire from those concerts is replicated on this present disc and also on another, equally fine CD, Pilgrimage to Santiago, released by SDG in 2006 (SDG 701).

SDG710, recorded before the choir set off on their journey, has been released before, by Universal Spain but now reappears on the choir’s own label.

The recording was made in the church of St. Alban the Martyr, London, and the sound quality is very good. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in Guerrero’s Duo Seraphim. This is scored for three four-part choirs and the engineers capture the spatial separation of the three choirs superbly. The performance is something rather special too; Gardiner and his singers bring genuine grandeur and atmosphere to the music. Guerrero, who worked at Seville Cathedral from 1542 until his death – as maestro de capilla from 1574 – is also represented by his Ave Virgo sanctissima, a spacious and beautiful setting, radiantly performed here.

The collection also includes music by Alonso Lobo, who was Guerrero’s assistant at Seville, eventually succeeding him. The six-part setting of Versa est in luctum was composed for the funeral rites of King Philip II in 1598. It’s an eloquent and moving setting of words from the Book of Job. Gardiner and his singers give an excellent account of this dignified, achingly beautiful music. Lobo’s setting of the Lamentations provides the most substantial piece on the programme. This is music for the first Lesson of Holy Saturday and it’s solemn music but also has a strongly dramatic element, which is well realised in this performance. The singing of the Monteverdi Choir mingles suitable fervour with expert control.

The pieces by Victoria are done equally well, especially O vos omnes, in which the intensity of the singing matches the intensity of the music. In complete contrast is the very first piece on the programme, which is also the earliest music included here. Mariam Matrem Virginem comes from a fourteenth-century manuscript collection, known as Libre Vermeil (‘Red Book’). It’s a wonderfully light and airy piece, written in three upper-voice parts. The textures are really delicate and the highly skilled performance means that the music feels airborne. I was surprised at how modern it sounds. Elin Manahan Thomas is a fine soprano soloist in a beguiling performance.

The presentation is excellent with a highly readable and informative note by Tess Knighton. The whole programme is perceptively planned and superbly executed and I enjoyed it very much.

John Quinn

A perceptively planned and superbly executed programme of music from the Golden Age of Iberian polyphony.