musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Francisco DE PEÑALOSA & Cristóbal DE MORALES: Lamentations

[I] Francisco DE PEÑALOSA (1470 - 1528): "Lamentationes"
New York Polyphony
rec: June 2018, Princeton, NJ, Princeton Abbey
BIS - 2407 (© 2019) (56'41")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Pedro DE ESCOBAR (1465-after 1535): Stabat mater dolorosa a 4; Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599): Antes que comáis a Dios a 4 [2]; Quae est ista a 4 [1]; Francisco DE PEÑALOSA: Lamentationes Jeremiae Feria V a 4; Lamentationes Jeremiae Feria VI a 4; Missa L'homme armé a 4-5 (Gloria; Credo; Agnus Dei); Sancta Maria, succurre miseris a 3; Unica est columba mea a 3

Sources: Francisco Guerrero, [1] Sacrae cantiones, vulgo moteta nuncupata, 1555 [2] Canciones y villanescas espirituales, 1589

Geoffrey Williams, alto; Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor; Christopher Dylan Herbert, baritone; Craig Phillips, bass

[II] Cristóbal DE MORALES (c1500 - 1553): "The Seven Lamentations"
rec: Feb 2016, Ghent, Kapel van de Zusters van Liefde Jezus en Maria
Et'cetera - KTC 1538 (© 2016) (62'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/ES/NL; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Cristóbal DE MORALES: Lamentatio: Zain; Lamentatio: Nuna; Lamentatio: Aleph; Lamentatio: Coph; Lamentatio: De lamentatione Jeremiae; Lamentatio: Et factum est postquam; Lamentatio: Phea; plainchant: Zain; Daleth; Et factum est postquam

Griet De Geyter, soprano; Bart Uvyn, alto; Adriaan De Koster, tenor; Lieven Termont, baritone; Bart Vandewege, bass
with: Jan Van Elsacker, tenora

The 16th century was a period in which Spain was not only a major political power in Europe, but also experienced a Golden Era in the arts, including music, generally known as the Siglo de Oro. Its first representative was Cristóbal de Morales, the last Tomás Luis de Victoria. The latter, and his contemporary Francisco Guerrero, have received most attention. In comparison, other composers have fared far less well in concerts and on disc, and that includes Morales. It is even worse in the case of Francisco de Peñalosa, who lived and worked in the time shortly before the Siglo de Oro. I know only three discs entirely devoted to his oeuvre. Pro Cantione Antiqua recorded his complete motets (Hyperion CDH55357), the Westminster Cathedral Choir, directed by James O'Donnell, two masses and a motet (Hyperion CDH55326), and one of the masses on the latter disc was also recorded by Dominique Vellard with his Ensemble Gilles Binchois and Les Saqueboutiers (Glossa GCD 922305). That said, his extant oeuvre is not that large. Ivan Moody, in his liner-notes to the present disc, lists six masses and some separate mass sections, six Magnificats, Lamentations, various hymns and motets. In New Grove, the work-list also includes some secular pieces.

Little is known about Peñalosa's formative years. He first appears in the records as a singer in the chapel of Ferdinand V of Aragon in 1498. In 1511 he was appointed maestro de capilla to Ferdinand's grandson. From 1517 to 1521 he served as a singer in the papal choir, and then went to Seville, where he was given the post of Cathedral Treasurer. Here he died in 1528.

Peñalosa did not compose a complete set of Lamentations, but only settings for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. They are scored for four voices, but include episodes where the number of parts is reduced to three or two. This is a way to emphasize elements in the text, as is the shift from polyphony to homophony. Moody mentions several other specimens where the text is expressed in the music. The Lamentations are based on plainchant as found in the Passionarium Toletanum, published in 1516 and based on the practice in Toledo Cathedral. The cantus firmus appears mostly in the upper voice.

This disc does not only include music for Holy Week, but the importance of the Lamentations, apparently recorded here for the first time, justifies a review of this disc for publication during Lent. Between the two Lamentations by Peñalosa, New York Polyphony sings a Stabat mater by Pedro de Escobar, a Portuguese contemporary, who for some time worked at the court of Isabella I. He participated in the composition of a mass, together with, among others, Peñalosa. This Stabat mater is confined to only the first two verses. It was written before the text was banned from the liturgy by the Council of Trent.

As we have seen, six masses by Peñalosa have been preserved. All of them are parody masses, based on secular subjects, except one. The Missa L'homme armé is based on a hugely popular tune, often used by composers as the basis of a mass. Josquin Desprez even composed two masses on this tune. The way the material of such a tune was used, could strongly differ from one composer to the other, and from one mass to the other. Here it appears throughout the entire mass in all four voices. Unusual is the addition of a fifth part in the second Kyrie, which is undoubtedly the reason that section is omitted here. That is very regrettable, as is the omission of the Sanctus. This means that we still have to wait for a complete recording of this mass, as it seems never to have been recorded before.

Among Peñalosa's motets we find quite a number for three voices. This was a common scoring in the 15th century, but went increasingly out of fashion after 1500. Unica est columba mea is a setting of a text from the Song of Solomon. It appears in an organ tablature of 1540 (recorded by Bruno Forst; Brilliant Classics, 2018). Sancta Maria, succurre miseris is also for three voices; the text was written by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres (c.952-1028).

The disc includes also two pieces by Francisco Guerrero, one of the last representatives of the Siglo de Oro. His oeuvre is well documented on disc, but that does not include his villancicos. The villancico is a typical Spanish genre, originally secular in nature, but during the 16th century increasingly used for spiritual texts. Such pieces were extra-liturgical, but in the course of time, they entered the church, despite resistance from the ecclesiastical authorities. That was probably not the case in Guerrero's time, but Antes que comáis a Dios is typical for the genre in that it is about the Holy Sacrament (al Santísimo Sacramento): "Before you eat God and this sacred meal, soul, you should think of who is God and who is you".

New York Polyphony has done us a favour by bringing the oeuvre of Peñalosa to our attention. It is very fine music, which deserves to be given much more attention. The two Lamentations are also a substantial addition to the repertoire for Passiontide. The ensemble is a worthy successor to The Hilliard Ensemble, which was disbanded a few years ago. Like the latter, it often includes contemporary pieces in its programmes, but here they decided to stick to music of the Renaissance, fortunately. The performances are excellent, and the qualities of Peñalosas music come to the fore here to full extent. The legato is immaculate, and so are the intonation and the blending of the voices. The transparency of its sound allows the listener to follow the different lines of the polyphony. The difference between the liturgical repertoire and Guerrero's villancico comes off well. It is just regrettable that the Missa L'homme armé has not been recorded complete. But that is the only thing to complain about. Lovers of renaissance polyphony should not miss this disc.

The second disc reviewed here was already released in 2016. As it never landed on my desk, I did not have the chance to review it. Last year I heard some of Morales' Lamentations in a live performance by Utopia, and it encouraged me to look for a copy of this disc. Very recently I got access to a digital copy, which allowed me to have a closer look at these works. Considering their importance, and taking into account that they seem never to have been recorded before, at least not complete, I thought it to be useful to pay some attention to this disc.

Morales was from Seville and it seems possible that he received his musical education from Francisco de Peñalosa and Pedro de Escobar. However, the most decisive influence on his development as a composer came from Rome, where he joined the papal chapel in 1535. His second book of motets was devoted to Pope Paul III. In the 1540s he published a large part of his compositional output, among them two books with masses and a book with Magnificat settings. In 1545 he was granted a leave of ten months; he settled in Spain and never returned, mainly due to his ill health. The strong Roman influence on his oeuvre has resulted in his being considered a 'foreign composer' in Spain.

Morales composed seven Lamentations which have been preserved in several sources, including some in Latin America, which is an indication of their status and that of their composer. For the recording the ensemble turned to a modern edition of 2012, which is based on several sources. Three of the Lamentations are taken from the library of the Capella Giulia, which holds a copy made by a singer of the Sistine Chapel. Another piece is included in a collection of Lamentations printed in Venice in 1564, alongside settings by Costanzo Festa.

Like Peñalosa, Morales uses material from the above-mentioned Passionarium Toletanum for the cantus firmus in three of the lectiones: in the first it appears in the altus, in the sixth in the superius and in the seventh in the altus again. It was a nice gesture of the performers to insert some chants from that collection to be performed in alternation with Morales' settings. They are placed after the second, the fourth and the fifth Lamentation respectively. The scoring of Morales' Lamentations is for four to six voices.

The importance of this recording can hardly be overestimated. This is very fine music, and deserves to find a place among the standard repertoire for Passiontide, as far as Renaissance polyphony is concerned. It won't be easy to surpass the performances by Utopia. These singers have grasped the style of Morales and his time to perfection, and sing with great commitment. They create the right atmosphere of contemplation and repentance. The inclusion of plainchant certainly also contributes to that. These voices are perfectly suited to this repertoire. I strongly recommend this disc and hope to hear more from this outstanding ensemble.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

New York Polyphony

CD Reviews