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ALFONSO the Wise (el Sabio) (1221-1284)
Sancta Maria, Strela do dia [2.50]
Anon. Codex Las Huelgas (c.1300)
Fa fa mi fa –Ut re-mi ut [1.35]
Ex illustri [1.43]
IVAN SOLANO (b. 1973)
Cielo Arterial (2015) [9.55]
Duarte LOBO (1565-1646)
Audivi vocem de caelo [3.05]
António CHAGAS-ROSA (b.1960)
Lumini Clarescet (2015) [12.24]
Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599)
O Grandes Pazesi [2.37]
Juycios sobre una estrella [3.23]
Tomas Luis da VICTORIA (1548-1611)
Alma Redemptoris Mater [4.55]
O Magnum Mysterium [2.48] Super Flumina Babylonis [3.55]
Manuel CARDOSO (1566-1650)
Lamentations for the second lessons at Matins on Maundy Thursday [7.38]
Les Éléments /Joël Suhubiette
Recording details not supplied
MIRARE MIR344 [56.06]

If you are, like me, a confirmed Hispanophile then this disc, a quick survey of musical highlights from the Iberian peninsular, will come as something of a joyous wonder as its presents music from the 13th Century court of Alfonso the Wise to two young composers writing to commissions in 2015.
In addition we have a fine, mixed, award-winning French choir who are described lavishly in the booklet as ‘A high-level instrument for creating vocal music’.

I was less convinced when I started to listen from track 1 which is a quite expressive performance of one of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, perhaps the best known from that vast collection and the two pieces from the Codex Las Huelgas, sung by the women only, both of which sounded a little too sophisticated. But by the time I reached Duarte Lobo’s movingly expressive Audivi vocem de caelo and indeed the two extracts from Cardoso’s Lamentations at the end of the recital, I was hooked on their sincere and earnest sound.

But before we reach those pieces we were assaulted, in the best possible way, by Iván Solano’s Ciela Arterial. He took a poem by Catherine Peillon called ‘Maria’ and has set it almost as if he was aiming at an electro-acoustic vocal sound. It starts with a cry for the words ‘We’ve lost the night’. Solano does indeed work in electro-acoustics and the composer in his own brief note obliquely writes ‘The representation of a changing sky that sometimes reddens…..inhales drops of water….wakes up strong, energetic, full of life and movement…’ there is more on these similar lines. This is a virtuoso work and Les Éléments carry it off brilliantly.

Portuguese composer António Chagas Rosa was also commissioned by the choir and produced a setting for 18 solo voices of Latin texts entitled Lumine Clarescet. The words are the mysterious ‘Sibylline Prophecies’ also set by Lassus as the composer admits. These were divine utterances, which can be interpreted as prophesying the birth of a peaceful Christ-like prince to a Virgin. Chagas Rosa sets four starting with the ‘Chant Chromatique’ the title of which enables him to set up a hugely complex harmonic language, atonal and using what I think are called ‘post-modern vocal techniques’ and certainly virtuoso. We hear the words of the Persian Sibyl, the Libyan Sibyl and the Cumaean Sibyl. It is a very striking work indeed.

Of the other pieces the two of Guerrero’s Canciones y Villanescas are charming, light sacred-secular pieces written almost in folksy-style and, I feel, need a smaller choir or lighter touch. I also would wish for a slower tempo for Victoria’s wonderful Christmas motet O Magnum Mysterium. But one can’t deny the quality of this choir, their balance, freshness, warmth of sound and virtuosity, which Joël Suhubiette elicits from the twenty voices. So, even if the contents of this CD does not quite appeal, I, for one, will be looking out for their concerts and any further recordings.

Gary Higginson

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