Notes and Editorial Reviews
A self-recommending collection of excellent recordings of music by one of the great masters of polyphony.
Hot on the heels of the three very generously filled boxes of discs issued last year to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the label (see reviews of Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Vol. 3) Gimell have now gathered together in another box three key albums of music by the Spanish master, Tomás Luis de Victoria. This marks the four-hundredth anniversary of his death.
The second disc in this new box, containing Victoria’s Lamentations, is a very recent recording. It was issued only last year, also as part of the Gimell thirtieth anniversary celebrations, and when I reviewed it I was very enthusiastic about it. As I
commented then, ‘Victoria’s music is wonderfully intense, very affecting and expressive. It’s also extremely beautiful. Peter Phillips and his gifted singers perform them outstandingly well, realising marvellously what Phillips refers to as the “plangent austerity” of the music. As one listens everything sounds so natural and inevitable as Victoria’s long phrases unfold. Technique such as this is the result of what must have been painstaking preparation yet the performances never sound at all studied.’ The Lamentations by Padilla are also well worth hearing, especially in a performance as fine as this Tallis Scholars account.
There is now a lovely video, posted on YouTube, in which you can watch The Tallis Scholars sing Victoria’s First Lamentation for Maundy Thursday, atmospherically recorded in the dimly lit Chapel of Merton College. This video performance complements the CD performances very nicely.
The present recording of the Victoria Requiem was included in the first of the three Gimell boxes, mentioned above. However, the version offered here contains more music. When the recording was first issued in 1987 it included the two motets,
Taedet animam meam and
Versa est in luctum. These were excluded from the boxed set, presumably for reasons of space, but they are restored here.
Taedet animam meam, which is in four parts, whereas the Requiem is for six voices, is a setting of the second lesson of Matins for the Dead. It’s quite simple and makes a very apposite introduction to the Requiem itself. The Requiem is informed by what Peter Phillips rightly refers to in his booklet note as a ‘mystical intensity of expression’. Throughout the performance The Tallis Scholars bring a wonderful sense of space and inevitability to this music. Their singing has all the intensity that the music demands but the intensity is never overdone: there’s always an enviable control. The motet
Versa est in luctum is inserted as the penultimate movement, immediately before the final Responsory. Again, this feels absolutely right.
Victoria’s Requiem was written for the 1603 obsequies of the Dowager Empress Maria, sister of King Philip II of Spain. It was for that monarch’s funeral rites in 1598 that Lobo wrote his setting of
Versa est in luctum and it’s very interesting to have both his setting and that of Victoria on the same disc. Lobo’s piece is by no means put in the shade - Phillips and his singers ensure that it’s not. They give an arresting, fervent account of it, one that demonstrates the expressive power that a few highly trained, expert voices can produce.
Victoria’s Tenebrae Responses were published in 1585 in the same volume as his Lamentations, the
Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae. Thus, it’s very valuable to have both compositions in the same collection. In brief, these Responses were sung at the office of Tenebrae, which was celebrated on the evenings before each of the three solemn days of the Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. In the booklet Peter Phillips describes the rubric for these services. There are eighteen Responses, six for each Office. Here they are sung with all their liturgical repeats, with soloists deployed for the central
versus sections of each piece.
In his notes Peter Phillips comments that in a recording such as this one can listen to the pieces in three groups, one group for each Office, as they were intended to be heard. That’s very true. But actually I think this recording offers an additional opportunity. The Responses, as a collection, offer a meditative overview of the essential elements of the whole Passion story, from the betrayal in Gethsemane through to the Entombment of Christ. In just over an hour of music Victoria takes the listener through the key stages of the narrative and I found following the music in this way a very rewarding, if ‘inauthentic’, process.
The music is astonishingly concise: only two of the eighteen settings last for over five minutes in this performance. A moment ago I described the music as a “meditative overview”. Don’t let that comment deceive you into thinking this is a collection of quiet, prayerful pieces. On the contrary, at least as presented here, there’s a great deal of vivid, dramatic music and The Tallis Scholars project it powerfully. For example, sample the bite in the singing of the words “cum gladibus et fustibus” (‘with swords and clubs’) in the sixth Response, or again the anguish with which the singers impart, very rightly, the words “Deus meus, ut quid me dereliquisti?” (‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’) in the eighth Response. The entire set contains some magnificent and deeply expressive music and it’s hard to imagine it could be better served than is the case here.
Victoria is one of the great masters of polyphony and these performances, recorded between the late 1980s and 2009, bring his music wonderfully to life. The singing is amazingly consistent and accomplished, which is testament to the exalted standards that Peter Phillips has set with The Tallis Scholars right from the outset. Even if you have some of these recordings in your collection, I’d urge you to take this opportunity to add the remainder by acquiring this box. The set includes the booklets that accompanied each original release, while the discs themselves are contained in sturdy and handsome cardboard slipcases. As consistent as the quality of the singing is the quality of the engineering. This collection of three excellent discs is, in fact, self-recommending.
-- John Quinn, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Versa est in luctum by Alonso Lobo
Written: 1598; Spain
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