musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Francisco GUERRERO (1528 - 1599): Masses and Motets

[I] Missa Congratulamini mihi
The Cardinall's Musick
Dir: Andrew Carwood

rec: Nov 9 - 11, 2009, Arundel Castle (Fitzalan Chapel)
Hyperion - CDA67836 (© 2010) (65'09")

[II] Missa de la batalla escoutez
The Sixteen
Dir: Harry Christophers

rec: March 2008, London, All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak
Coro - COR16067 (© 2009) (69'23")

[I] Thomas CRECQUILLON (c1505-c1557): Congratulamini mihi a 5; Francisco GUERRERO: Ave Maria a 8 [3]; Dum esset rex a 5 [6]; Maria Magdalena et altera Maria a 6 [3]; Missa Congratulamini mihi a 5 [2]; Post dies octo a 5 [7]; Regina caeli a 4 [1]; Regina caeli a 8 [5]
[II] Francisco GUERRERO: Ego flos campi a 8 [6]; Lauda mater ecclesia a 4 [5]; Missa de la batalla escoutez [4]; Pange lingua a 8 [6]; Tota pulchra es, Maria a 6 [3]; Vexilla regis a 4 [5]; Clément JANEQUIN (c1485-1558): La Guerre (La bataille de Marignan) a 4

(Sources: Francisco Guerrero, [1] Sacrae cantiones, vulgo moteta nuncupata, 1555; [2] Liber primus missarum, 1566; [3] Motteta, 1570; [4] Missarum liber secundus, 1582; [5] Liber vesperarum, 1584; [6] Mottecta, liber secundus, 1589; [7] Motecta, 1597

[I] Carys Lane, Cecilia Osmond, Amy Haworth, Rebecca Hickey, soprano; Patrick Craig, David Gould, alto; William Balkwill, Julian Stocker, tenor; Robert Evans, Robert Rice, baritone; Robert Macdonald, James Arthur, bass
[II] Julie Cooper, Grace Davidson, Carys Lane, Elin Manahan Thomas, Charlotte Mobbs, soprano; Ruth Clegg, Martha McLorinan, contralto; Ian Aitkenhead, David Clegg, William Missin, Christopher Royall, alto; Simon Berridge, Mark Dobell, David Roy, Julian Stocker, tenor; Ben Davies, Robert Davies, Eamonn Dougan, Jimmy Holliday, Stuart Young, bass

Francisco Guerrero was one of the two most important composers of religious music in the late renaissance in Spain. The other was Tomás Luis de Victoria, who is much better known. But Guerrero's music has faired better in modern times than Harry Christophers suggests in his personal notes in the booklet to his recording. Jordi Savall and Raúl Mallavibarrena recorded motets, masses have been recorded by the Westminster Cathedral Choir, Musica Ficta, the Ensemble Plus Ultra and the Tallis Scholars, Vesper music was recorded by the Chapelle du Roi and a Requiem by the Orchestra of the Renaissance. In addition La Colombina recorded sacred and secular music, and the secular and spiritual villanescas and canciones were recorded completely by Musica Ficta. And that is only what I could find in the catalogue of the public library of my hometown and in my own collection.

But there is still a lot to discover. Guerrero composed no less than 18 masses, two settings of the Requiem and a considerable number of other liturgical works. Therefore these two discs are welcome, even though the Missa de la batalla escoutez has been recorded before (by the Westminster Cathedral Choir).

Francisco Guerrero was born in Sevilla and he spent most parts of his life in this city. Remarkable in his career is his journey to the Holy Land which he described in a book which was published in 1592. He was set to travel to the Holy Land again in 1599, but shortly before his departure he fell victim to the plague which hit Seville that year.

The two masses on the two discs which are reviewed here are two of the 18 masses Guerrero composed, and which are all based on existing material, either plainchant or compositions by other composers. He uses the material in these two masses very differently. The Missa Congratulamini mihi is based on a motet for Eastertide by the French composer Thomas Crecquillon. In this mass Guerrero uses Crecquillon's material extensively, and the sparkling character of the motet is reflected in the mass. Guerrero even enhances it by the scoring: both are for five voices, but whereas in the motet the fifth voice is a second bass, Guerrero scores his mass with a second soprano.

This mass and motet were the reason to centre the programme around music for Easter. In fact, only the motet Maria Magdalena et altera Maria is written for the day of Easter. It is about Mary Magdalene discovering that the tomb where Jesus was laid is empty, and an angel telling her that Jesus has risen. There are some madrigalian elements in this motet, and that is also the case with Post dies octo, which tells about the apostles being together in a house, and Jesus appearing in their midst and confronting Thomas.

Mary Magdalene is the subject of the motet Dum esset rex, which is not written for Eastertide, but for the feast of Mary Magdalene on 22 July. Regina coeli is an 'antiphon of the Blessed Virgin in Paschal time'; the settings are for four and eight voices respectively. The eight-part setting is for two choirs, and so is the setting of Ave Regina, again not for Eastertide.

In comparison to the Missa Congratulamini mihi the Missa de batalla escoutez is very different in the way the original material is incorporated into the composition. This material is from the famous chanson La Guerre by Clément Janequin which was also used by other composers.

Only at some moments material from Janequin's chanson is clearly recognizable. Apparently that is not good enough for Harry Christophers. "In order to highlight all these motifs, I have gone for a rather eccentric interpretation, full of excessive contrasts in dynamics and tempo; the opening and final sections of the Credo, for example, I have treated in an almost martial way, but then allowed great repose and reverence at the words 'et incarnatus est'." It is not as bad as it sounds, but the approach is definitely wrong. If it was the intention of the composer to clearly expose the material he used for his mass, he would have given it more prominence. But obviously that was not his intention.

The disc opens with the chanson by Janequin, so everyone can listen for himself what exactly Guerrero has made of it. In addition The Sixteen sing two motets on texts from the Song of Songs, Ego flos campi and Tota pulchra es, Maria. The latter is remarkable for inserting 'Maria' into the text, reflecting the common identification of the 'bride' in the Song of Songs with the Virgin Mary. The other three pieces are office hymns: Lauda mater ecclesia, Vexilla regis and Pange lingua. All three are alternatim settings, in which the stanzas Guerrero has not set to music are sung in plainchant.

These two recordings have various things in common. In both some singers use a slight vibrato which damages the ensemble - not surprisingly, as various singers participate in both. The performances are strictly a capella, although in his liner notes of The Sixteen's recording Martyn Imrie states that during Guerrero's time in the Seville cathedral "it was customary there for instruments to participate in the performance of liturgical music". It may be true - as he writes next - that not every cathedral in Spain could afford the instruments which were used in Seville. But instruments playing colla parte was also practiced elsewhere, maybe with just one instrument like the bajón or the organ. Therefore his statement that "one certain and frequent mode of performance of Guerrero's music continued to be by a group of unaccompanied singers" seems a rather lame excuse for the lack of instruments in that particular recording.

The sacred music of the renaissance by composers from Spain and Portugal has a warmth and passion which makes it stand out from comparable repertoire elsewhere in Europe. But that is hardly exposed in these recordings. I generally rate the performances of The Cardinall's Musick higher than The Sixteen's: it produces a stronger and more brilliant sound. In comparison I find The Sixteen rather dull, in particular in the motets and hymns. And Janequin's chanson isn't sung particularly well; the Ensemble Clément Janequin (Harmonia mundi) has done that a lot better. The Sixteen have used a language coach for this piece, but apparently she didn't know anything about a historical pronunciation of French.

All things considered I can only cautiously welcome and recommend these discs.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

The Cardinall's Musick
The Sixteen

CD Reviews