musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548 - 1611): "Passion - Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae"

Andrés Montilla-Acurero, cantor; La Capella Reial de Catalunya; Hespèrion XXI
Dir: Jordi Savall

rec: July 24 - 27, 2018, Salzburg, Kollegienkirche
AliaVox - AVSA9943 (3 CDs) (© 2021) (3.21'35")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/IT/ES/CAT; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

[LCRdC] Lucía Martín-Cartón, Monica Piccinini, soprano; Marianne Beate Kielland, Kristin Mulders, mezzo-soprano; David Sagastume, Gabriel Díaz, alto; Lluís Vilamajó, Víctor Sordo, David Hernández, tenor; Marco Scavazza, Josep-Ramon Olivé, baritone; Daniele Carnovich, Pieter Stas, bass
[HXXI] Jordi Savall, Sergi Casademunt, Philippe Pierlot, Lorenz Duftschmid, viola da gamba; Xavier Puertas, violone; Joaquim Guerra, dulcian

An important part of music for Holy Week are the Responsories, in Latin Tenebrae Responsoria. Several composers of the Renaissance have set the eighteen responsories complete, among them Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa and Tomás Luis de Victoria. These are frequently performed during Lent and Holy Week, but are also very much part of the repertoire of renaissance polyphony and performed as concert pieces. Victoria included them in a collection of music for Holy Week, which he published in Rome in 1585, under the title of Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae. This collection not only attests to his development as a composer during his stay in Italy, but also marks a major change in his life: his return to Spain (between 1585 and 1587).

The collection includes the eighteen responsories, nine Lamentations, four motets, two Passions, two hymns, a Psalm, a chant and the improperia. Most of the music appeared in this collection for the first time, but some of the pieces had been published before, especially in the motet collections of 1572 and 1583. Whereas the responsories are frequently performed, other parts are lesser known and seldom part of performances or recordings. Among them are the two Passions, according to St Matthew and St John respectively, the former to be performed on Palm Sunday, the latter on Good Friday. The word composition is probably a bit exaggerated: Victoria only set the words of the crowd, the so-called turbae, largely homophonic and syllabic, and some passages for two characters; the rest of the text is to be sung in plainchant. It is notable that the Passions after St Mark (Tuesday) and St Luke (Wednesday) are omitted. Victoria focused on Palm Sunday and the Triduum Sacrum.

The heart of the Office for Holy Week are the Lamentations and the Responsories. The Lamentations of Jeremiah bemoan the destruction of Jerusalem and were used as metaphors for the passion and death of Christ. Victorias Lamentations are from an earlier date; the original versions have been preserved in manuscript. For the 1585 edition Victoria 'corrected' them. He has written three Lamentations for each day of the Triduum Sacrum - the last three days before Easter. In the last of each group he increases the number of voices, and he does the same in the closing passage: "Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum".

The Responsories deal more directly with the passion of Christ. Some refer to texts from those chapters in the Gospels which report about the events on Good Friday. The structure of the responsories is ABCB: first the two halves of the responsory are sung (AB), then the verse (C), which is followed by a repeat of the second half of the responsory (B).

Josep Maria Gregori i Cifré, in his liner-notes, states that Victoria "adopted a style of expression which made him one of the most representative exponents of the so-called Castilian 'musical mysticism' of the Golden Age." He notes a "passionate religious intensity" in his music. There can be no doubt that Victoria was driven by a deep personal faith when he composed his music. In the first edition of his Motecta (1572) he declared that it was his purpose to compose "with no other object than to glorify God and to be useful to men". His faith clearly manifests itself in his Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae. Whereas in other collections he closed with a dedication to a ruling prince, in this book he ends with an invocation of the Holy Trinity: "O God, Trinity most high, may all souls praise thee, whom by the mystery of the Cross thou dost guide and deliver now and ever. Amen". It is also telling that his corrections of earlier-written music includes the omission of dissonances and too florid lines. Austerity is the feature of this collection, in line with its content.

Victoria's Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae is undoubtedly one of the great monuments of music history. It is probably due to its size that it is seldom recorded complete. As far as I know, only one recording was available to date: the Ensemble Colombina recorded the collection for Glossa (2005). There are some substantial differences between that recording and the one by Jordi Savall. Whereas the former is a studio recording, the Alia Vox recording was made during live performances. The audience behaved impeccably (or the technique has done a brilliant job). The Ensemble Colombina's performances are with one voice per part, whereas Savall now and then adds ripienists. Which option is in line with the practice in Victoria's time is probably impossible to establish. La Colombina opted for a strictly a capella performance, whereas Savall in some places adds a viol consort and a dulcian supporting the bass. This aspect is probably the most debatable; it seems unlikely that these works were performed with instruments. Savall also inserted 'introductions' in several places: these are played by the viol consort. The first piece, for instance, is an introduction to the sequence of music for Palm Sunday; the viols play the opening of the sixth responsory for Maundy Thursday, Unus ex discipulis. Obviously, these introductions are not part of the liturgy. It may be appropriate for a performance in a concert setting, but is superfluous in a recording.

Apart from these issues, this production is most welcome. I don't know if the Glossa recording is still available, but even if you have that in your collection, you may consider adding this one. The singing is outstanding, and the mixture of austerity and passion, which is to typical of Victoria, comes off well here. As usual, the production includes several essays on the music and its historical context as well as the lyrics, all in several languages.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Hespèrion XXI

CD Reviews