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Alonso LOBO (1555 - 1617): "Sacred Vocal Music"

Coro Victoria
Dir: Ana Fernández-Vega

rec: Nov 23 - 27, 2017, Madrid, Basílica pontificia de San Miguel
Brilliant Classics - 95789 (© 2019) (58'27")
Liner-notes: E; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ave Maria a 8; Ave Regina coelorum a 5; Credo Romano; Cum audisset Ioannesin vinculis; Ego flos campi; Erunt signa in sole; Libera me, Domine a 5; Missa O Rex Gloriae a 4 (Kyrie; Gloria); Missa Petre ego pro te rogavi a 4 (Sanctus); Missa Simile est regnum caelorum a 4 (Agnus Dei); O quam suavis est, Domine a 6a; Regina caeli laetare; Versa est in luctum a 6; Vivi ego, dicit Dominus a 4

Élia Casanova (soloa, Manon Chauvin, Cristina Teijeiro, soprano; Julieta Vińas, Beverley Green, mezzo-soprano; Hugo Bolívar, alto; Francisco Broajos, Emiliano Cano, Jesús Navarro, tenor; Jagoba, Oriol Mallart, baritone; Pablo Acosta, bass
Manuel Minguillón, vihuelaa

Three names are inextricably connected to Spanish sacred music of the Renaissance: Morales, Guerrero and Victoria. They are generally considered the greatest masters of the 16th century. As is so often the case, other composers have remained in their shadow, and their music is not that often performed and recorded. Therefore the disc under review here is most welcome, as it sheds light on a composer who belongs to the lesser-known of the 16th century.

Alonso Lobo's career was uneventful. He was born in Osuna, and at the age of 11 he became a choirboy at Seville Cathedral, when Francisco Guerrero was maestro de capilla. He took a degree at Osuna University and was appointed chapter secretary in 1581. In 1586 he became canon in the collegiate church at Osuna. In 1591 he returned to Seville Cathedral where he acted as assistant to Guerrero. From 1593 to 1604 he worked as maestro de capilla of Toledo Cathedral. In the latter year he asked for permission to return to Seville where he remained for the rest of his life.

Only one collection of music by Lobo was printed in his lifetime: the book with masses from which a number of works on this disc are taken. Its title suggests that further publications were planned, but for some reason that never materialized. However, the book with masses found wide dissemination, partly due to the composer's activities in promoting his works as he sent copies of the book to a number of cathedrals. Some copies have been preserved in parts of the world as far as Latin America. The fact that some of his works have been found in manuscripts from the 18th century attests to the great appreciation of his oeuvre.

However, that is not reflected by his fate in the time that the sacred music of the Renaissance was rediscovered, as Alfonso de Vicente states in the liner-notes to the Brilliant Classics disc. "Despite Hilarión Eslava publishing several of his works and Francisco Asenjo Barbieri even conducting some of them, his music did not attain a place in the standard repertoire of the Catholic music reformists nor in the nationalist historiography. It is likely that the reputation he was given by [Antonio] Soler as a writer of convoluted canons, distanced him from the ideals of both the former (austerity and clarity of text) and the latter (expressiveness as opposed to technical dexterity). Thus, virtually the only reference to him in the widely used History of Spanish Music published by Alianza Editorial is as an example of the outdated continuance of the use of canons. So, banished from the Olympian Trinity of classical Spanish polyphony (Morales, Guerrero, Victoria), Alonso Lobo is still today, except within specialist circles, a virtually unknown composer."

This disc aims at presenting the various aspects of Lobo's oeuvre. At the outer ends are the Credo romanum and the motet Versa est in luctum. The former is largely dominated by homophony and is a model of clarity and transparency. In the motet, on the other end, Lobo completely avoids homophony and creates a dense six-part polyphony. It "evolves into a dense mesh of contrapuntal lines which at times seem chaotic, although when heard together effectively convey the emotion of a text bordering on nihilism." It is followed by a completely different motet, Libera me, Domine, a responsory from the Office of the Dead, which is has an alternatim texture.

I already mentioned the old-fashioned traces in Lobo's music. One of them is the canon technique, which was a feature of the Franco-Flemish school and was also adopted by Palestrina, another composer who can be considered 'conservative'. In this programme the setting of Ave Maria is a specimen of Lobo's use of the canon technique. Notable is that the eight voices are not separated into two choirs. Another reference to the past is the simultaneous use of two texts in the Agnus Dei from the Missa Simile est regnum. " In the Agnus I he uses the theme from the Guerrero motet on which the mass is based as a cantus firmus in the tenor voice, keeping the original text (a polytextuality that had supposedly disappeared decades earlier and which he uses in other Agnus)." And then, in the Agnus Dei II, he adds two voices singing in canon. The initial repeated note is inspired by the word "simile". One could consider this an example of text expression, which Lobo generally avoids in his oeuvre.

There are two specifically interesting issues here. Firstly, some of Lobo's works have been preserved only in an instrumental version. In those cases, only the title indicates to which text they were sung. Here they are performed in what may have been their original form, thanks to reconstructions by Bruno Turner. Secondly, the programme ends with the motet O quam suavis est, performed here as a 'bonus' by soprano and vihuela. This refers to a common performance practice at the time, which today is little-known and seldom practised. One of the few exceptions is the disc "Et Jesum", with sacred works by Tomás Luis de Victoria, performed by Carlos Mena (alto) and Juan Carlos Rivera (lute and vihuela) (Harmonia mundi, 2003).

O quam suavis receives a refined performance by Élia Casanova, one of the sopranos of the Coro Victoria, which is responsible for this recording of sacred works by Lobo. It is an excellent ensemble of twelve voices, which blend very well. However, not every piece is performed with the full ensemble; some items are sung with one voice per part. One of them is Versa est in luctum, and that makes much sense considering the density of the polyphony. That said, the texts are mostly not that well intelligible; this aspect should have been given more attention. This issue makes the omission of the lyrics in the booklet all the more regrettable.

However, considering that there are not that many discs of Lobo's music in the catalogue, this recording is a valuable addition to the discography. Those who would like to hear more, should investigate a disc with two complete masses, performed by La Grande Chapelle, directed by Albert Recasens. Another mass and Lobo's Lamentations have been recorded by the Choir of Westminster Cathedral, directed by Martin Baker.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Coro Victoria

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