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Cristóbal DE MORALES (c1500 - 1553): "Virgo Maria - Motets"

Consortium Carissimi
Dir: Vittorio Zanon

rec: August 5 - 10, 2003, Legnano (Verona), Chiesa di San Salvaro e San Pietro
ASV Gaudeamus - CD GAU 343 (© 2004) (71'30")

Accepit Jesus panes; Clamabat autem mulier chananea; Descendit angelus; Fantasia; Iam non dicam vos servos; In illo tempore assumpsit Jesus; In illo tempore cum turba magna; In illo tempore dixit Jesus modicum; In illo tempore stabant autem; Job, tonso capite, corruens in terram; Manus tuae Domine; Missus est Gabriel; Quanti mercenari; Similie est regnum; Vae Babylon, civitas magna; Virgo Maria

Nadia Caristi, Lorenza Fogagnolo, Laura Scavazza, soprano; Elena Biscuola, Carla Saro, mezzosoprano; Paolo Costa, alto; Fabio Furnari, Stefano Benà, Marzio Milanato, tenor; Marco Scavazza, baritone; Garrick Comeaux, Giancarlo Borsetto, bass; Pietro Prosser, lute; Mauro Morini, trombone, serpentone; David Yacus, trombone, dulcian; Vittorio Zanon, organ

Considering his reputation as a composer during his life and after it is surprising that so few of Cristóbal de Morales's compositions are available on disc. Some of his masses have been recorded, and a small number of motets, some of which more than once. But the bulk of his large production of motets - about 100 in total - has been neglected. Therefore this recording, which is entirely devoted to De Morales's motets, is most welcome, the more so since the largest part of them has never been recorded before.

De Moráles, who almost exclusively composed religious music, had an international reputation as one of the most brilliant composers of his time, who was often compared with Josquin Desprez. De Moráles shared this judgement, and considered himself the true successor of Josquin. This reveals a part of his personality some people around him, in particular his employers, found it difficult to deal with.

A mark of the popularity of his music, both during his life and after his death, is the large number of prints of his compositions. His music was sung almost everywhere in Europe, but also in Latin America, and even in Angola. It remained in the repertory of churches well into the 18th century.

The title of this disc - 'dialogue motets' - puzzles me. The liner notes don't refer to a dialogic character of these motets at all. Some texts do contain elements of a dialogue, for instance Simile est regnum, a paraphrase of Matthew 20, 1-16 (the parable of the landowner hiring men to work in his vineyard), and in particular In illo tempore dixit Jesus modicum (John 16, 16-19), where Jesus announces his death to his disciples in a cryptic way, which causes vivid debates among them. But these are exceptions.

Most motets are for four voices, although some are in five parts. A remarkable piece is the six-part Quanti mercenari. Its subject is the passage from the parable of the lost son (Luke 15), beginning at the moment the youngest son decides to return home: "How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!" While five voices sing the setting of the verses 17 to 19 from this chapter, the sixth voice - here scored with four singers - sings the Lord's Prayer as cantus firmus.

Very expressive are the two motets on texts from the Book of Job, in particular Manus tuae Domine: "Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet thou dost destroy me." In the above-mentioned motet In illo tempore dixit Jesus modicum the debate among the disciples is illustrated by a lively rhythm. Quotations sometimes get a special treatment in order to emphasise them, like when Jesus says (In illo tempore stabant autem): "mulier ecce filius tuus" (Woman, behold thy son!).

Most motets on this disc are on texts from the Bible. The only exception is Virgo Maria which reflects the devotion to the Virgin Mary, which is so characteristic of Spanish Catholicism in the renaissance. During the whole piece the second voice sings "Virgo Maria" on the same melody, in the second part joined by the upper voice, which is doing the same independently. The text of the motet is sung by the other voices - here, though, only by a tenor, whereas the two other voices are played on the lute. Interesting is also Vae Babylon, civitas magna, a paraphrase of Revelation 18, 1-3. The first words "Vae, vae Babylon" (Woe, woe Babylon) are set homophonically, and its declamatory effect is strenghtened here by doubling the voices on this passage (referred to as ripieno in the tracklist). This is repeated at the beginning of the second part and again at the end of the whole motet. The same practice of ripieno voices is used on "alleluia" at the end of both sections of Iam non dicam vos servos.

As one may conclude from these descriptions this is a most interesting recording, which underlines the qualities attributed to De Moráles by his contemporaries. I am happy to say that the performance by the Carissimi Consort is excellent. All singers have fine voices, which blend very well. The solo passages are also realised convincingly. The sound of this ensemble is clearly different from that produced by British vocal ensembles. It is difficult to describe exactly what that difference is, but to me these voices just sound warmer, more vibrant and more intense. The interpretation pays tribute to the wide variety of performance practices in Europe in the 16th century. The fact that De Moráles's compositions were performed all over Europe is used as argument to use instruments either to play colla parte with the singers or as substitute for one or more voices or even as accompaniment of the singers (in particular the organ). There are also some intavolations, which reflect a wide-spread practice at the time.

I strongly recommend this disc, first because of the rarely performed repertoire and its quality, secondly for the outstanding and imaginative interpretation.

Johan van Veen (© 2005)

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