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Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611)
Tenebrae Responsories, from Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae (1585)
Stile Antico
rec. 2017, All Hallows’ Church, Gospel Oak, London
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902272 [71:21]

If I were to be restricted to but three of de Victoria’s works in his prolific output, I would choose his Requiem, the O quam gloriosum mass and the Tenebrae under review. For a brief description of the latter, I refer you to my previous review of the relatively recent (2012) recording, from ex King's Singer Nigel Short with his eponymous group Tenebrae (also favourably reviewed by two MWI colleagues).

That recording, combined with the considerably older, 1990, recording from the Sixteen on Virgin, form my points of comparison for this work. This new version is thoroughly professional and enjoyable, but lovely though the singing here is, my loyalties remain with the oldest one for several reasons, centring on the three criteria of sound, performance and voice quality.

The recording acoustic here is very deep and warm and there is a very pleasing distancing between the two male choirs in the antiphonal plainsong, but it is a little close in the main responsories and occasionally sounds marginally “buzzy” as the lower voices are so immediate. I prefer the more distanced, ethereal sound picture of the Virgin issue to both the Signum and Harmonia mundi releases. Greater resonance conjures up more vividly the cathedral ambiance. Short’s Tenebrae are given a slightly cleaner, clearer, brighter sound than either of the other two groups but I like a little more mystery.

In performance, the Sixteen, despite their more “disembodied” sound, often deliver key words in the liturgical texts with more emphasis than Tenebrae or Stile Antico, but there is a pleasing urgency to the latter’s repeated “cum gladii et fustibus” (“with swords and clubs”), whereas the crucial curse on Judas “Melius illi erat, se natus non fuisset” (“It would have been better for him had he never been born”) is more dramatically intoned by the Sixteen. At the other end of the mood spectrum, neither the Tenebrae group nor Stile Antico is as ethereal and otherworldly as the Sixteen in “O vos omnes”.

Stile Antico employ mostly twelve singers, bringing in an extra two for two responsory passages, two of the plainsong inclusions, and the additional motet, whereas The Sixteen actually use eighteen singers and, judging by the photos, Tenebrae add between six and ten singers to their core group of thirteen, depending on the section being sung. OVPP adherents will object, but I like the extra heft afforded by larger numbers and feel that lends more variety to the tonal palette.

Stile Antico make different liturgical choices from the earlier recordings, eschewing the repeats of the responsory texts but adding three plainsong chants and the concluding motet. This accounts for why, if you strip out the extra material, their Tenebrae runs to only 56:15, whereas the other two recordings are around seventy minutes. I prefer to hear the repeats, but the additional material is compensation; the motet is especially lovely, rich in polychromatic harmonies, with something of the finest passages in “O quam gloriosum” in its melismatic runs.

Regarding vocal quality, all three choirs offer impeccable intonation, homogeneity and musicality, but Stile Antico are not quite as pure or integrated as others, with individual voices marginally less tonally refined and sopranos who are more boyish sounding, more like trebles, and very occasionally a tad tremulous.

My preferences for the Sixteen in this work are personal and marginal; no-one acquiring this new recording, paradoxically warmer in sound and cooler in execution, is likely to be disappointed by the performance here of this extraordinary music.

Ralph Moore

Track listing
Maundy Thursday Responsories – Second and Third Nocturnes
1. Amicus meus [3:01]
2. Iudas mercator pessimus [2:24]
3. Unus ex discipuli meis [4:07]
4. Eram quasi agnus [3:31]
5. Una hora [3:05]
6. Seniores populi [5:43]
7. Plainsong: Incipit lamentationae Jeremiae Prophetae
Good Friday Responsories – Second and Third Nocturnes
8. Tamquam ad latronem [3:42]
9. Tenebrae factae sunt [4:22]
10. Animam meam dilectam [8:14]
11. Tradiderunt me [2:43]
12. Iesum tradidit impius [2:55]
13. Caligaverunt oculi mei [6:32]
14. Plainsong: De lamentationae Jeremiae Prophetae
Holy Saturday Responsories – Second and Third Nocturnes
15. Recessit pastor noster [3:31]
16. O vos omnes [3:04]
17. Ecce quomodo moritus [5:29]
18. Astiterunt reges [2:10]
19. Aestimatus sum [2:44]
20. Sepulto Domino [4:41]
21. Plainsong: De lamentationae Jeremiae Prophetae
22. Motet: O Domine Jesus Christe



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