Hot on the heels of the three very generously filled boxes of
discs issued last year to mark the thirtieth anniversary of
the label (see reviews of Vol.
3) Gimell have now gathered together in another box three
key albums of music by the Spanish master, Tomás Luis de Victoria.
This marks the four-hundredth anniversary of his death.
The second disc in this new box, containing Victoria’s Lamentations,
is a very recent recording. It was issued only last year, also
as part of the Gimell thirtieth anniversary celebrations, and
when I reviewed
it I was very enthusiastic about it. As I commented then, ‘Victoria’s
music is wonderfully intense, very affecting and expressive.
It’s also extremely beautiful. Peter Phillips and his gifted
singers perform them outstandingly well, realising marvellously
what Phillips refers to as the “plangent austerity” of the music.
As one listens everything sounds so natural and inevitable as
Victoria’s long phrases unfold. Technique such as this is the
result of what must have been painstaking preparation yet the
performances never sound at all studied.’ The Lamentations by
Padilla are also well worth hearing, especially in a performance
as fine as this Tallis Scholars account.
There is now a lovely video,
posted on YouTube, in which you can watch The Tallis Scholars
sing Victoria’s First Lamentation for Maundy Thursday, atmospherically
recorded in the dimly lit Chapel of Merton College. This video
performance complements the CD performances very nicely.
The present recording of the Victoria Requiem was included in
the first of the three Gimell boxes, mentioned above. However,
the version offered here contains more music. When the recording
was first issued in 1987 it included the two motets, Taedet
animam meam and Versa est in luctum. These were excluded
from the boxed set, presumably for reasons of space, but they
are restored here. Taedet animam meam, which is in four
parts, whereas the Requiem is for six voices, is a setting of
the second lesson of Matins for the Dead. It’s quite simple
and makes a very apposite introduction to the Requiem itself.
The Requiem is informed by what Peter Phillips rightly refers
to in his booklet note as a ‘mystical intensity of expression’.
Throughout the performance The Tallis Scholars bring a wonderful
sense of space and inevitability to this music. Their singing
has all the intensity that the music demands but the intensity
is never overdone: there’s always an enviable control. The motet
Versa est in luctum is inserted as the penultimate movement,
immediately before the final Responsory. Again, this feels absolutely
Victoria’s Requiem was written for the 1603 obsequies of the
Dowager Empress Maria, sister of King Philip II of Spain. It
was for that monarch’s funeral rites in 1598 that Lobo wrote
his setting of Versa est in luctum and it’s very interesting
to have both his setting and that of Victoria on the same disc.
Lobo’s piece is by no means put in the shade - Phillips and
his singers ensure that it’s not. They give an arresting, fervent
account of it, one that demonstrates the expressive power that
a few highly trained, expert voices can produce.
Victoria’s Tenebrae Responses were published in 1585 in the
same volume as his Lamentations, the Officium Hebdomadae
Sanctae. Thus, it’s very valuable to have both compositions
in the same collection. In brief, these Responses were sung
at the office of Tenebrae, which was celebrated on the evenings
before each of the three solemn days of the Triduum – Maundy
Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. In the booklet Peter
Phillips describes the rubric for these services. There are
eighteen Responses, six for each Office. Here they are sung
with all their liturgical repeats, with soloists deployed for
the central versus sections of each piece.
In his notes Peter Phillips comments that in a recording such
as this one can listen to the pieces in three groups, one group
for each Office, as they were intended to be heard. That’s very
true. But actually I think this recording offers an additional
opportunity. The Responses, as a collection, offer a meditative
overview of the essential elements of the whole Passion story,
from the betrayal in Gethsemane through to the Entombment of
Christ. In just over an hour of music Victoria takes the listener
through the key stages of the narrative and I found following
the music in this way a very rewarding, if ‘inauthentic’, process.
The music is astonishingly concise: only two of the eighteen
settings last for over five minutes in this performance. A moment
ago I described the music as a “meditative overview”. Don’t
let that comment deceive you into thinking this is a collection
of quiet, prayerful pieces. On the contrary, at least as presented
here, there’s a great deal of vivid, dramatic music and The
Tallis Scholars project it powerfully. For example, sample the
bite in the singing of the words “cum gladibus et fustibus”
(‘with swords and clubs’) in the sixth Response, or again the
anguish with which the singers impart, very rightly, the words
“Deus meus, ut quid me dereliquisti?” (‘My God, why have you
forsaken me?’) in the eighth Response. The entire set contains
some magnificent and deeply expressive music and it’s hard to
imagine it could be better served than is the case here.
Victoria is one of the great masters of polyphony and these
performances, recorded between the late 1980s and 2009, bring
his music wonderfully to life. The singing is amazingly consistent
and accomplished, which is testament to the exalted standards
that Peter Phillips has set with The Tallis Scholars right from
the outset. Even if you have some of these recordings in your
collection, I’d urge you to take this opportunity to add the
remainder by acquiring this box. The set includes the booklets
that accompanied each original release, while the discs themselves
are contained in sturdy and handsome cardboard slipcases. As
consistent as the quality of the singing is the quality of the
engineering. This collection of three excellent discs is, in