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Alonso LOBO (1555 - 1617): "Lamentations"

The Choir of Westminster Cathedral
Dir: Martin Baker

rec: July 10 - 11, 2014a & Feb 9 - 10, 2015b, London, Westminster Cathedral
Hyperion - CDA68106 ( 2016) (68'37")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599): Maria Magdalene et altera Maria a 6, moteta [1]; Alonso LOBO: Lamentationes a 6b; Missa Maria Magdalene a 6a [2]; O quam suavis est, Domine a 6b [2]; Regina caeli a 4, motetb

Sources: [1] Francisco Guerrero, Motetta, 1570; [2] Alonso Lobo, Liber primus missarum, 1602

The Choir of Westminster Cathedral has a long tradition of performing and recording polyphonic works from the Spanish and Portuguese renaissance. As the Cathedral is Roman Catholic masses and motets are part of its standard repertoire which is sung on a day to day basis. The many recordings for Hyperion include a considerable number of pieces by little-known composers. Morales, Victoria and Guerrero are the best-known masters of the Spanish renaissance, but they are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The present disc is devoted to Alonso Lobo, one of the lesser-known masters.

He was born in Osuna, and at the age of 11 he became a choirboy at Seville Cathedral, where 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 held the same position until the end of his life.

His output is not very large: only one collection of compositions was printed, the Liber primus missarum (Madrid, 1602). This book not only includes masses but also motets, among them Versa est in luctus, his most famous composition. Although only this book was printed there can be little doubt that he was held in high esteem as copies of this edition have been found across Spain and in the New World.

This disc is devoted to music for Lent and Easter. Lobo composed two sets of Lamentations, both for Holy Saturday. The second set is severely damaged and as a result is unfit for performance. The first is recorded here and is divided into nine sections, embraced by the introductory words "De lamentatione Jeremiae prophetae" and the call for repentance: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum". Every section is preceded by a long vocalization of the Hebrew letters Heth, Teth and Iod respectively. One should not expect the kind of expression we find in settings of the 17th century, but with the means of his time Lobo has created an incisive setting of these texts which are not as sombre as the texts for the previous days and mostly reflect hope. The first verse says: "It is due to the favour of the Lord that we are not consumed, that his kindnesses are not exhausted." The last verse is a strong reference to Jesus' suffering: "He will offer his cheek to the striker, insults will overwhelm him".

Regina caeli is an antiphon for Easter: "Queen of heaven, rejoice. For hem whom you were worthy to bear has risen as he said. Pray for us to God. Alleluia." This motet has been preserved in an instrumental version with only the incipit of the text, but - according to Bruno Turner in his liner-notes - the complete text could easily be restored. It seems to have been recorded only once before, by Turner himself with his ensemble Musica Reservata (la ma de guido, 2001). O quam suavis es is a setting of a text by St Thomas Aquinas, and is an antiphon at the first Vespers of Corpus Christi. It is included in the book of masses of 1602 and, like the Lamentations scored for six voices.

That is also the scoring of the Missa Maria Magdalene which is based on a motet for Easter by Lobo's teacher Guerrero. He clearly had a strong influence on Lobo: all but one of his masses are based on motets by Guerrero. The latter's motet opens this disc; it was included in a collection of motets printed in 1570. It is especially the opening motif which time and again returns in Lobo's mass who also used exactly the same scoring as Guerrero: six voices, with two upper voices and baritone and bass at the other end. A special treatment is given to the two Osanna sections. Guerrero's motet is lively in character which can be easily explained by its text, a compilation of verses from the 16th chapter of the gospel of Mark which describes that Mary Magdalene and 'the other Mary' went to Jesus' tomb to anoint him and find the tomb empty.

The fact that this music is part of the repertoire which the choir sings in the liturgy also means that the performance is not based on a strict historical approach. The scoring for male voices - boys and men - is in line with the practice at the time the music was written, but it is questionable whether the choirs at the time had so many trebles in comparison to the much smaller number of altos, tenors and basses. I also wonder whether the Spanish singers of the renaissance would have taken a more differentiated approach to tempo and dynamics. That said, the long-time experience with Spanish polyphony certainly pays off: the polyphony by composers from the Iberian peninsula often has a stronger amount of emotion and expression than that by someone like Palestrina, and the successive directors of the choir, Martin Baker and before him James O'Donnell, have managed to bring that out quite effectively. That is the case here as well. The singing is excellent, although I would like a little less vibrato in the lower voices.

In short, this is a fine disc, not just for the time of Passion and Easter, but for every time of the year.

Johan van Veen ( 2017)

Relevant links:

Choir of Westminster Cathedral


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