Stile Antico: Tenebrae Responsories

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Program: #19-23   Air Date: May 27, 2019

In the first of three programs with this celebrated group, we share the profound and moving Holy Week settings by Thomas Luis de Victoria.

NOTE: All of the music on this program is features the ensemble Stile Antico. The recording is on Harmonia Mundi and is CD HMM 902272.

Born in 1548, Tomás Luis de Victoria received his early musical training as a chorister of Avila Cathedral under the tutelage of Gerónimo de Espinar and Bernardino de Ribera – the latter of whom can be counted amongst the greatest Spanish composers of his generation. Victoria was probably around seventeen when he travelled to Rome to continue his education at the Collegio Germanico. It was a city rich in opportunity for him, for he stayed there for the first half of his adult life, working as a singer, teacher, organist and maestro di cappella for several institutions including the Collegio Germanico, and taking holy orders. It was not until 1587 that, returning to his native Spain, Victoria settled in Madrid, serving as chaplain to the Dowager Empress Maria, and as maestro de capilla in the chapel of the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales, where she resided, until her death in 1603. After this he remained as chapel organist and one of the convent chaplains until his own death eight years later.

The Tenebrae Responsories come from a larger collection of polyphonic music for Holy Week, the Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae, which Victoria published in 1585, assembling a number of pieces he had written during his years in Rome. The responsories set here are part of the much longer office of Tenebrae, which essentially combined the monastic hours of Matins and Lauds for each of the last three days of Holy Week, the triduum sacrum.

From Gramophone: The works on this disc are taken from Victoria’s Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae (published Rome, 1585), a vast offering of polyphonic music spanning Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday. What is presented here are the Responsories for Tenebrae services, celebrated in the fading daylight as part of a liturgy requiring candles to be sequentially extinguished. It has become customary in modern times to record the Second and Third Nocturns from Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday in sequence. Divorced from their original context they form an impressively impassioned collection.

This has to be Stile Antico’s best album to date: it’s certainly their most gripping and, as ever with this ensemble, the vocal sound is sumptuous throughout. That they are so engaging in Victoria’s music can be no mere accident: these pieces have a bold recorded history, beginning with George Malcolm’s feisty madrigalian interpretation with Westminster Cathedral Choir (Decca, 5/60) and retaining an imprint of that extrovert approach ever since. Of course, the texts are expressive, atmospheric and so demonstratively set that it is hard to retain an English countenance in performance, and even The Tallis Scholars used an unusually robust sound (Gimell, 1/91). It’s rather thrilling therefore to hear Stile Antico, who often perform Renaissance polyphony calmly, tap in to the dramatic excitement and atmospheric intensity now associated with these works.

In this recording I particularly admire how the singers find a splendid balance between their rich, blended sound and the need for individual vocal grains to emerge at imploring or declamatory moments. Take, for instance ‘Tenebrae factae sunt’ in the Good Friday Responsories: here sung by low voices, delineating the darkness of the Crucifixion from the crying out of Jesus in what must be one of the most intimate performances on record. 

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 

Composer Info

Thomas Luis de Victoria.

CD Info

HMM 902272.