Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611)
Ave Maria a 4 [2:48]
Ave maris stella 1600 [6:24]
Ne timeas, Maria [3:23] *
Sancta Maria, succurre miseris [4:48] *
Vidi speciosam [7:04] *
Missa Vidi speciosam [19:58] *
Choir of Westminster Cathedral/James O'Donnell*; David Hill
rec. 21-23 March 1984, Westminster Cathedral, London. DDD

To mark the quatercentenary of Victoria's death, Hyperion have re-issued this superb collection of half a dozen works in praise of the Virgin Mary on their budget Helios line. Central to these works is the Mass, Missa Vidi speciosam. Published as part of a collection in 1592, it was written for six part choir (SSATTB) and typifies Victoria's less florid, expansive style when compared particularly with that of Palestrina.

The experienced singers of the Choir of Westminster Cathedral under David Hill deliver forward, transparent and convincing accounts of all the music on this rather slim - at three quarters of an hour - release. Their voices, individually, have the qualities that privilege the texts over a welter of counterpoint or even over the melodic richness which obtained in English choral polyphony of the time. Although there is a certain distance between the singers and the listeners, a restrained formality, their style is warm, intimate and full of confidence. Voices at times a little thin - in the credo of the Mass [tr.8], for example - may at first be slightly off-putting. But they're very real too.

It is also a style of singing very much of its time, of the early 1980s when exploration, debate and experimentation in, with and about the various ways to perform such music as this was more forceful than it is today. There was still much 'bedding in' to be done in order for the authentic nature of the music to be communicated at the same time as making it as appealing as possible. Subdued organ playing by James O'Donnell can be discerned, though barely, in all but the first two items. The priorities of Hill and the Choir of Westminster Cathedral are to convey the authority and established nature of this lovely music as much as its spectacular nature, its place in the tradition of Renaissance polyphony - still less its origins in the Spain of Victoria's time. This is music, not without context; but music to be heard for what it is.

A resulting eagerness is most discernible in the high voices - in the Sancta Maria, succurre miseris [tr.5], especially. This confers a lightness and - fortunately - at the same time an immediacy that sits well with the music. This is only because Hill's singers understand the need for and ways in which to generate musical impetus as much through respect as effect. In other words, these are genuine, delicate and uplifting accounts.

The acoustic is just right for the setting of the Mass and appropriate for the other items as well. Despite the recording's age (it's over 25 years), it is vibrant and focuses our attention on the texts. These are all reproduced in the booklet - in Latin and English.

Mark Sealey

A welcome reissue of simple, committed singing of beautiful and compelling music by Victoria.