Sacred Spain

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Program: #16-18   Air Date: Apr 25, 2016

The Victoria Requiem, settings for the Virgin Mary, and a Spanish Baroque mass.

NOTE: All of the music on this program features music from Cervantes’ time and soon after.

I. Ave Maria (Seraphic Fire/Patrick Dupré Quigley). SFM CD.

For more information:

Ave Maria: Gregorian Chant

From The small south Florida choir Seraphic Fire has made several excellent albums, and this is another. There is a caveat: buyers in search of an album of Gregorian chant, despite the seemingly straightforward title, will not be getting exactly what they think they're getting. A look at the track list makes it clear: the program contains not only chant but polyphonic pieces from the High Renaissance that use these chants. The title is accurate in promising that all the music is associated with Mary. They are not exactly "settings," as the short booklet note asserts, but the chant is worked in a variety of ways into the polyphonic texture. Each polyphonic choral work is paired with its chant, and the variety of overall effect gives the casual listener an idea of how a Renaissance composer thought about chant and its possibilities. The program includes pieces from several chant traditions (actually the majority are not "Gregorian") as well as a good mix of Renaissance works from greatest hits (Josquin Desprez's "Ave Maria...virgo serena") to more unusual pieces. Seraphic Fire, at 13 voices, remains one of the best small choirs in the U.S., with a delicate blend that rivals much-ballyhooed European ensembles. The album can thus be recommended to anyone looking for an introduction to sacred music from the medieval era to the Renaissance, but not to buyers wanting a solid hour of Gregorian chant.

Alma redemptoris, plainchant (Old Hall Manuscript) - Anonymous, English - Plainchant - Patrick Dupré Quigley (01:58)
Alma Redemptoris Mater, for 4 voices - Francisco Guerrero - Patrick Dupré Quigley (04:15)
Inviolata, integra, et casta es, Maria, Marian sequence - Gregorian Chant - Plainchant - Patrick Dupré Quigley (01:56)
Inviolata, integra et casta es, motet for 5 parts - Josquin Des Prez - Patrick Dupré Quigley (04:57)
Salve mater misericordiae - Gregorian Chant - Plainchant - Patrick Dupré Quigley (03:59)
Quam pulcra es, antiphon for 3 voices, MB 44 - John Dunstable - Patrick Dupré Quigley (01:53)
Ave Maris Stella, hymn - Plainchant - Patrick Dupré Quigley (02:32)
Ave Regina caelorum - Leonel Power - Patrick Dupré Quigley (01:46)
Salve regina, antiphon for 8 voices & organ - Tomás Luis de Victoria - Patrick Dupré Quigley - Molly Quinn - Estelí Gomez - Misty Leah Bermudez - Owen McIntosh (08:45)
Ave Regina caelorum - Gregorian Chant - Plainchant - Patrick Dupré Quigley (01:31)
Ave Virgo Sanctissima (Manuscrit de Jean de Jasienna BJ 2464, XVe siècle) - Anonymous - Plainchant - Patrick Dupré Quigley (00:58)
Ave Maria - Anonymous - Plainchant - Patrick Dupré Quigley (01:11)
Ave Maria... virgo serena, motet for 4 parts - Josquin Des Prez - Patrick Dupré Quigley (05:34)
Ave mundi spes Maria - Gregorian Chant - Plainchant - Steven Soph - Patrick Dupré Quigley - Owen McIntosh (03:45)
Regina caeli laetare - Gregorian Chant - Plainchant - Patrick Dupré Quigley (01:31)
Regina coeli, antiphon for 5 voices - Tomás Luis de Victoria - Patrick Dupré Quigley - Gitamjali Mathur - Estelí Gomez - Owen McIntosh - Reginald L. Mobley (03:32)

II. Tomás Luis de Victoria: Officium Defunctorum (Collegium Vocale Gent/Philippe Herreweghe). Outhere/Phi CD LPH 005.

Officium Defunctorum

Officium Defunctorum

From Andrew O’Connor: At this year’s Utrecht Early Music Festival I was lucky enough to see, on successive nights, two of the great Bach conductors of the day, Maasaki Suzuki and Philippe Herreweghe, directing their celebrated ensembles. The contrast in conducting styles could hardly have been greatcr. Suzuki’s every gesture was controlled and precise, his direction fluent yet crisply articulated. With Herreweghe, I struggle to find a tactful way to describe how he appeared on stage. With his unruly hair and wearing a strange sort of Tolstoy smock, he looked rather like a kindly old hippy gesturing vaguely at the performers. Yet somehow his Collegium Vocale Gent knew exactly what he meant and sang with precision and exemplary beauty rather more so, indeed, than Suzuki’s Bach Collegium of Japan the night before. Collegium Vocale is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, so its profound understanding of its founder’s and director’s musical wishes is unsurprising. Then again, Collegium Vocale is not so much a permanent choir as an ensemble of specialist Early Music singers. On this recording of Victoria choral music, for example, can be found such notable Baroque soloists as Hana Blažikova, Alex Potter, Hermann Oswald and Peter Kooij. However, there is no sense of an ad hoc group of vocal stars; rather the 13 singers are flawless in ensemble and finely controlled in the occasional solo passages.
Victoria’s Requiem Mass (Officium Defunctorum) for six voices is probaly his most famous work today. His masterpiece and his swansong, it has been performed on disc many times (memorably by the Choir of Westminster Cathedral and The Sixteen); but never, I believe, as well as this. In his booklet essay, Bruno Turner describes the work as having a simple dignity, and in the sublime ‘Offertory’, great bustling complexity and invention. The overall impression is of almost transcendent luminosity. Indeed ‘luminous’ is also the best word to describe the sound of Collegium Vocale in this recording. It should not be thought that the performance somehow floats across the surface in unruffled serenity; Herreweghe explores every inflection of Victoria’s score, including its restrained drama and grief transfigured by faith. The plainchant passages are sung with exceptional fluency and grace and thereby move seamlessly in and out of the surrounding polyphony. The singers’ diction is strikingly clear without seeming exaggerated; and even those with but hazy memories of school Latin (which includes me) should be able to follow most of the texts by ear.

This textual intelligibility is also a result of the deliberately transparent style Victoria assumed for the Requiem. In the four more thoroughly polyphonic motets that follow on this disc, it is not quite as easy to catch every word without recourse to the printed word. This selection of works gives but a glimpse at the riches of Victoria’s oeuvre and Collegium Vocale performs each with supple grace and, where appropriate, considerable vigour. The fame of this Requiem today and also his music for Holy Week may give a rather unbalanced impression of Victoria as a particularly sombre composer. These Eucharistic and Marian motets, which abound in both reverence and joy, are a useful corrective. In the heartfelt Salve regina I was struck by how well Herreweghe and his singers let us follow the Gregorian cantus firmus threading through the intricate part writing. The final motet on the disc, Vadam, et circuibo civitatem, is an early work; but it shows thrilling technical mastery in style that is at once rapturous and declamatory. Herreweghe and his singers perform it with passion and a sense of mounting excitement, which show that choirs which sing without Romantic exaggeration need not be cold and expressionless.

The recording, which was made in Notre Dame du Liban in Paris, has a glorious bloom to it, without any loss of detail. Bruno Turner, of Pro Cantione Antiqua fame, contributes detailed and very informative notes. (I must challenge one odd remark he makes to the effect that no one today finds credible the Judaic and Christian allegorical interpretations of the Song of Songs - a rather sweeping claim it seems to me.)

Philippe Herreweghe may have an eccentric conducting style to look at but he and his choir obviously understand each other and Victoria’s music at the deepest level. A masterly recording in every way.


Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae: O Domine Iesu Christe

Domine non sum dignus

Salve Regina

Vadam et circuibo civitatem

Requiem 1605 'Officium defunctorum'

III. Francesc Valls: Misa Scala Aretina (La Grand Chapelle/Albert Recasens). Lauda CD LAU014.

From Francesc Valls is almost exclusively known for his Missa Scala Aretina, mainly because it caused a fiery debate among composers of his time. "The polemics to which the mass gave rise centred on the second soprano's entry on an unprepared 9th at 'miserere nobis' in the Gloria. Gregorio Portero, maestro de capilla at Granada Cathedral, fired the first salvo in 1715", Craig H. Russell writes in New Grove. "What had started as a debate among professionals was gradually heating up to reach boiling point in the spring of 1717, when many of the masters of the peninsula took sides", according to Álvaro Torrente in the liner-notes to the present recording. However, this debate wasn't just about musical matters. It had everything to do with politics which played a major role in Valls' career and even caused his dismissal as maestro de capilla of Barcelona Cathedral in 1719.

A significant part of his career fell during the years of the War of the Spanish Succession. It was a result of Charles II, the last Habsburg King of Spain, dying without a heir in 1700. Attempts to solve the problem by dividing the empire among the candidates for the throne failed. Charles II designated Philip, Duke of Anjou, the second-eldest grandson of King Louis XIV of France (representing the house of Bourbon), as his successor. A coalition of other countries, fearing French dominance of the continent, supported Emperor Leopold I's claim to the whole Spanish inheritance for his second son, Archduke Charles. The strong anti-French feelings in Catalonia led to support for Charles and the Allied cause. In 1705 Barcelona was taken by the Allied forces and Charles settled there until the city was conquered by the Bourbon party in 1714. As in the previous years Valls had cooperated with Charles in musical matters he fell out of grace and was removed from his post in 1719. Gregorio Portero who initiated the debate about Valls' Missa Scala Aretina was known for his strong Bourbon profile. "[If] we analyse its context in detail (...) and the biography of the key protagonists, Valls' detractors mostly held a clearly pro-Bourbon affiliation, while among his defenders were many musicians from the regions supporting the Hapsburgs. It is thus patently clear that the argument over aesthetics was merely one of the dimensions of the controversy but perhaps not the most relevant one" (Torrente).

Various works recorded here include parts for trumpets and that could well be explained by the fact that they were written during the time Charles resided in Barcelona. He and his wife often attended feasts and some of the music by Valls may have been performed on such occasions, for instance the villancico Sombres cobardes. When Charles came to Barcelona he was accompanied by his Italian musicians. This resulted in an increasing influence by the Italian style in Spain. However, even before then Valls had already adopted some elements of the Italian idiom. The Missa Scala Aretina is a specimen of the mixture of Italian and traditional Spanish elements. It is basically written in the stile antico but Valls added characteristics of the concertante style in vogue in Italy. Listening to this mass I was reminded of the multi-choral music written in cities like Rome and Bologna in the late 17th century, sometimes described as 'colossal baroque'. It is not just the splendour of the scoring which impresses. There are also passages of strong expression, for instance the closing episode of the second Kyrie, 'Qui tollis peccata mundi' from the Gloria - including the chord which inspired the above-mentioned debate - and the use of dissonants to depict the words "passus et sepultus est" from the Crucifixus (Credo). At the end of the Credo the words "peccatorum" and "mortuorum" receive special treatment. The mass is for 11 voices, but includes sections for reduced voices and even passages for only a pair of them, such as 'Domine Deus' (Gloria) for two sopranos, the second imitating the first.

This disc offers a survey of the various styles on which Valls drew. Some pieces are - like the mass - in the stile antico, such as Sancta et immaculata and the motets Domine vim patior and Plorans ploravit. The former is a remarkable piece for its heavy chromaticism which is reminiscent of Carlo Gesualdo or the chromatic experiments by Jacobus Handl-Gallus in his motet Mirabile mysterium. Plorans ploravit, a text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, also includes some strong dissonants. At the other end of the spectrum we find the Easter motet Surrexit pastor bonus, in which the solo voice conducts a dialogue with a violin.

One of the features of the Italian style is the close connection between text and music. That comes to the fore in Lauda Ierusalem, with triplets on the words "velociter currit sermo eius" (his word runneth swiftly) and dissonants on "ante faciem frigoris eius quis sustinebat" (who can stand the cold). Italian influences also shine through in Valls' villancicos, a typically Spanish genre. In En el misterioso circo this influence is represented by the use of ritornellos for the strings instead of the traditional repetition of the final part of the refrain. In Sombras cobardes Valls omits the stanzas but includes a recitative.

This production is of great importance. The Missa Scala Aretina may be quite well-known by name, there are hardly any recordings available. Probably the first dates from 1980, with John Hoban directing the London Oratory Choir and The Thames Chamber Orchestra on modern instruments. In 1992 Gustav Leonhardt recorded the mass with the Netherlands Bach Society on period instruments. It seems that no other recordings have been made since then. It hardly needs saying that a new recording is most welcome. Álvaro Torrente writes that the first and second choirs seem designed for soloists, considering the many solos, but the third choir "involved tutti in the chapel". This is probably comparable to the use of a capella in many works by Heinrich Schütz. Albert Recasens opted for a strictly one-to-a-part performance. That seems perfectly legitimate, but leaves room for a version with a larger ensemble. One of the virtues of this modest line-up is the transparency and the clarity of the text, which is extended by the lack of vibrato in the voices and the excellent diction and articulation of the singers. At the same time the use of solo voices is not at the expense of the monumental nature of the mass. The rest of the programme receives the same high-standard performance. The good intonation of the singers guarantees that where Valls uses harmonic tension or dissonances in the interest of text the expressive substance of the music comes across perfectly.

The fact that this disc affords us a differentiated picture of Valls' oeuvre speaks strongly in its favour. The quality of the music and the performance, and the outstanding documentation in the booklet only enhance its value.

Francesc VALLS (c.1671-1747)
Misa Scala Aretina
Psalm: Lauda Ierusalem a 10 [6:37]
Responsory: Sancta et immaculata a 8 [5:26]
Tono al Santísimo Sacramento: En el misterioso circo a 4 [4:43]
Lesson: De lamentatione Ieremiae prophetae a 8 [6:05]
Motet: Surrexit pastor bonus a solo [3:01]
Motet: Domine vim patior a 4 [2:12]
Motet: Plorans ploravit a 4 [1:59]
Invitatory: Ave Maria a 8 [3:30]
Villancico: Sombras cobardes a 12 [6:55]
Misa Scala Aretina a 11 [32:42]

Composer Info

Francisco Guerrero , Josquin Des Prez, John Dunstable, Leonel Power, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Francesc VALLS (c.1671-1747)

CD Info

SFM CD, Phi CD LPH 005, CD LAU014.