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Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548 - 1611)
Canticum Nativitatis Domini
see below review for track listing
L'Almodi Cor de Cambra; Capella de Ministrers/Carles Magraner
rec. 18-2 December 2010, Church of Santa Maria de Requena, Valencia, Spain
Full Latin texts and English translations

The four hundredth anniversary of the death of the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria fell in 2011. He was undoubtedly one of Europe’s great Renaissance composers. Universally admired for his masses and motets Victoria devoted himself exclusively to sacred music in Latin. That said, he was far from prolific, leaving only a modest body of works. Born in the province of Ávila, Castile around 1548, Victoria later trained in Rome where, it is thought that, he may have studied with Palestrina. 
This CD is a Christmastide project brought to fruition by Valencia born musician Carles Magraner. Magraner, with unerring assurance, directs Capella de Ministrers the Valencian early music group that he founded in 1987. The disc is released by Capella de Ministrers on their own label. The ensemble comprises six mixed vocalists and six instrumentalists who double as additional voices. Magraner follows the Spanish practice of the period by using minstrels who were connected to a church both playing instruments and also singing during liturgical services. For those used to hearing Victoria’s music sung by unaccompanied choir it may seem strange at first to hear instrumental accompaniment. Magraner here has bolstered his vocal forces by using L'Almodi Cor de Cambra, the twelve strong Valencian early music chamber choir. 

There are fourteen tracks and the consistently elevated level of performance ensures a satisfying experience. I especially admire the Marian antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater (Loving Mother of our Redeemer) for eight voices intended for the season of Advent. Its Italianate polychoralism has a wonderful sacred power: a fervent wall of exultant sound. The concise hymn for the feast of Epiphany Magi viderunt stellam (The Magi beheld the star) for four voices is a miniature gem with an inspiring blend of voices. A short motet Ne timeas Maria (Fear not Mary) makes a remarkable reverential impression although it only uses a single counter-tenor voice accompanied by a chamber organ. Splendidly sung Ecce,Dominus Veniet (Behold, the Lord cometh) for five voices accompanied by dulcian (an early type of bassoon) and organ is appealingly ethereal. The Christmas motet Quem vidistis, pastores? (Whom did you see Shepherds?) scored for six voices and instruments in two parts resonates with joyfulness for the birth of Jesus. Here the booklet notes remark on “the cascade effect of the different voices”. One of Victoria’s finest and best known works O magnum mysterium (O great mystery) for four voices is performed here with choir and instruments. The first section is purely instrumental and opens with striking brass playing. At point 3:14 (track 11) the choir enters to the accompaniment of a chamber organ. An outstanding work Gaude, Maria Virgo (Rejoice,Virgin Mary) for five voices is unusual in Victoria’s canon. It’s one of only three motets that he wrote exclusively for high voices. In this version Magraner has positioned his soprano at the front of the transept with his split soprano choirs at either side and a cornet at the rear. It produces a remarkable effect. The final work, Ave Maria (Hail Mary) for eight voices is luxuriant and beautifully sung. It is written in an antiphonic style that alternates homophonic and polyphonic passages between the choirs.
I was delighted by the tonal blend of this beautifully reverential singing. The instrumental accompaniment convincingly underpins the vocal line providing an additional dash of colour. The close sound is impressively clear.
Everything is attractively packaged with the CD housed inside a glossy hardback book (192mm x 150mm) containing full Latin texts, English translations and several splendid images of artwork from Victoria’s time. A sheer delight from start to finish: gloriously performed and recorded.
Michael Cookson 

Track Listing
Ave Maria (Atribuido) a 4 voces [2:43]
O Regem caeli, In Festo Natalis Domini. Paribus vocis - a 4 voces [5:38]
Congratulamini mihi, De Beata Virgini - a 6 voces [3:44]
Alma redemptoris mater, a 8 voces [5:56]
Quam pulchri sunt, In Conceptione Beatae Mariae - a 4 voces [3:44]
Magi viderunt stellam, In Epiphania Domini - a 4 voces [3:31]
Ne timeas Maria, In Annuntiatione Beatae Mariae [3:28]
Ecce Dominus Veniet, In Adventu Domini - a 5 voces [4:59]
Quem vidistis, pastores? In festo Nativitatis Domini - a 6 voces [6:09]
Hostis Herodes impie, De Epiphania - a 4 voces [4:21]
O magnum mysterium, In Die Circumcisionis Domini - a 4 voces [6:43]
Gaude Maria Virgo, De Beata Virgini - a 5 voces [4:26]
Ave Maria, a 8 voces [4:44]