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Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (c1548-1611) O quam gloriosum est regnum a 4 [2:22] Duarte LOBO (c1565-1646) Missa Vox clamantis a 6 [22:53] Sebastián de VIVANCO (c1551-1622) Magnificat 8. toni a 8 [10:00] Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599) Simile est regnum caelorum a 4 [4:25] Tomás Luis de VICTORIA Missa Semile est regnum caelorum a 4 [21:44]
Truro Cathedral Choir/Christopher Gray
Luke Bond (organ: Vivanco)
rec. 2016, Truro Cathedral, UK
Texts and translations included REGENT REGCD491 [61:32]
The music, written on the Iberian peninsula from the early 16th to the first half of the 17th century, is a rich source for vocal ensembles and choirs of our time. Among British choirs especially the Westminster Cathedral choir has made a considerable number of discs with music by, for instance, Victoria and Guerrero, to name two of the most prominent composers of the Spanish renaissance. In comparison music by Portuguese composers is far less well represented in the catalogue. One of the main reasons is that most of the repertoire from the 16th and 17th centuries was preserved in the library of the royal court in Lisbon. When the city was hit by an earthquake in 1755, this library was destroyed, and as a result only a small proportion of what has been written during the renaissance period has come down to us.
The title of the present disc mentions one of the best-known masters of the Portuguese renaissance: Duarte Lobo, not to be confused with his Spanish namesake Alonso Lobo. Not that much is known about Duarte Lobo. Even the year of his birth is not known, nor the place where he was born. He studied music with Manuel Mendes at the Évora Claustra da Sé, the Cathedral cloister school, where he was a boy chorister. He became maestro de capilla at the Hospital Real, Lisbon and from about 1591 until at least 1639 he was maestro de capilla at Lisbon Cathedral. The largest part of his oeuvre was published in four volumes and comprises masses, responsories and Magnificats. Only a few motets have been preserved. Notable is the scoring for eight voices of some of his responsories and masses. One motet is even scored for eleven voices, divided into three choirs.
When Lobo died the stile nuovo had already established itself in Italy and most other parts of Europe. In Spain the Italian style manifested itself in secular vocal music. However, the sacred music written in Spain and Portugal was still very much rooted in the stile antico, dominated by counterpoint. That is also the feature of the two works by Lobo included here. The Missa Vox clamantis is scored for six voices. The Benedictus is for reduced voices, a device which was very common in the 16th century, especially among composers of the Franco-Flemish school.
Sebastián de Vivanco was an almost exact contemporary of Victoria, and came from the same town (Avila). He worked as maestro de capilla in Segovia, Avila and Salamanca. He is considered one of the leading composers of his age. He published a book with masses, an Office for the Dead, a collection of motets and a book with Magnificats, from which the Magnificat 8. toni for eight voices is taken. It is an example of the alternatim practice. In this setting the odd verses are sung in polyphony, the even verses in plainchant. The plainchant verses were not included in the printed editions and have to be added by the performers. There is a debate among scholars and interpreters as to how plainchant has to be performed, especially in regard to rhythm. Christopher Gray follows the view represented by the Solesmes editions, in which the plainchant is notated in equal note values.
It was very common to use an existing piece of music as the starting point of a mass setting; this is known as parody mass. The title of Lobo's mass refers to a motet, which has not been identified to date. It seems likely that it was from Lobo's own pen. One of the richest sources for parody masses was Francisco Guerrero. The four-part Missa Simile est regnum caelorum by Tomás Luis de Victoria, one of the most famous composers of his time and on friendly terms with Guerrero, is based on the latter's motet of that title. Here again the Benedictus is for reduced voices (three). Composers used the material of their source in very different ways. In this mass Guerrero's motet is not easily recognizable. That was probably not the intention: the title was meant as a mark of respect for the other composer, and the composer of the mass itself used the material as a way to give structure to the composition. It is interesting that Victoria makes use here of the technique of the canon, which also appears in the oeuvre of Guerrero.
The latter's motet precedes the mass, and the programme opens with one of Victoria's better-known motets, O quam gloriosum est regnum. It shows that the fashion of a stronger connection between text and music, which manifested itself across Europe in the second half of the 16th century, was not ignored by Victoria. The motet comprises two separated sections.
It is impossible to say how large the choirs in renaissance Portugal and Spain may have been. The Truro Cathedral Choir comprises eighteen boy choristers, four male altos, four tenors and three basses. That is about the same size as the Westminster Cathedral Choir in its recordings of this kind of repertoire. I tend to think that such choirs are larger than was common at the time the composers performed their music. Whether that has any effect on the intelligibility of the text is hard to say; the acoustic also plays its part. Fact is that often the text is hard to understand, but in music of this period that was not the main concern of composers and performers. I had never heard this choir, but I was aware that it has made a good name for itself in more recent years, for instance through the performance of contemporary music. A composer like Gabriel Jackson spoke in high terms about performances of his music. That appreciation seems well deserved. I am quite impressed by what I have heard here. The trebles have much presence and sing with great clarity, in a style which is sometimes called 'continental', in contrast to the 'Victorian' style of, for instance, the King's College Choir of Cambridge. It suits the music performed here well. The singing is powerful, when needed, but never harsh. The contrapuntal lines are beautifully shaped and the dynamic shading is just right. The balance is probably a bit too much in favour of the trebles. It is regrettable that the lower voices sometimes allow themselves a little too much vibrato, also in the intonations of the Gloria and Credo, and in the plainchant versions of the Magnificat. That does not diminish in any way my appreciation for this disc. That also concerns the repertoire: Victoria's mass is one of his lesser-known and especially Duarte Lobo's compostions are important additions to the catalogue.
If you love choral music of the Renaissance, this is a disc you should not miss.