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Alonso LOBO (1555 - 1617): Missae 'Prudentes virgines' & 'Beata Dei genitrix'

La Grande Chapelle
Dir: Albert Recasens

rec: Nov 23 - 24, 2012, Antwerp, St Jacobskerk
Lauda - LAU013 (© 2013) (60'57")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/S; lyrics - translations: E/F/S
Cover & track-list

Francesco GUERRERO (1528-1599): Beata Dei genitrix a 6, moteta [2]; Prudentes virgines a 5, motet [1]; Alonso LOBO: Missa Beata Dei genitrix a 6a [3]; Missa Prudentes virgines a 5 [3]

Sources: Francisco Guerrero, [1] Motteta Francisci Guerreri ..., 1570; [2] Mottecta Francisci Guerreri ... liber secundus, 1589; [3] Alonso Lobo de Borja, Liber primus missarum Alphonsi Lobo de Borja, 1602

Anna Dennis, Clare Wilkinson, soprano; Gabriel Díaz Cuesta, alto; David Munderloh, Simon Wall, tenor; Uli Staber, bass; Herman Stinders, organa

Alonso Lobo is certainly not an unknown quantity to lovers of renaissance polyphony, but he is more or less overshadowed by his contemporary Victoria and his teacher Guerrero. Not that many of his compositions are available on disc, and when his name turns up in concert programmes or discs it is mostly his motet Versa est in luctum which is performed. It is true that his extant oeuvre is not that large: about 60 pieces are attributed to him, but some of these are of doubtful authenticity. About ten years ago the number of his compositions was consideraby extended when 26 villancicos could be attributed to him.

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. In his liner-notes Javier Marín López points out that Lobo didn't travel from one town to another to find a better position or more favourable working conditions like so many of his colleagues, because "the cathedrals of Toledo and Seville were at the top of the Spanish hierarchical cathedral systems (in terms of both incomes and prestige) (...)".

Only one collection of music by Lobo was printed in his lifetime: the book with masses from which the two 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 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.

The book of masses comprises six items; five of them are based on motets by Guerrero which must be interpreted as a homage to his teacher. This disc opens with the latter's motet for the Common of Virgins, Prudentes virgines, which refers to Jesus' parable of the five wise and the five foolish virgins awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom (Christ). The fact that this motet and Lobo's mass are scored for five voices is symbolic. Guerrero's motet is in two sections which both end with the same phrase: "Behold the bridegroom is here, go forth to receive Christ the Lord". Lobo's mass is dominated by imitative polyphony and includes a number of sometimes complicated canons. Some of them were included by Antonio Soler in a treatise as examples of puzzling pieces.

Guerrero's motet Beata Dei genitrix is again in two sections which both end with an Alleluia. It was dedicated to the feast of the Nativity of Mary (8 September). Lobo's mass is different from the previous in that there are more homophonic passages. They create a contrast to the imitative episodes, and so do the passages for reduced forces. The 6-part texture results in a greater density. That is enhanced by the use of an organ in the performances of this mass and in Guerrero's motet which is also in 6 parts.

The use of an organ is just one of the options in the performance of Spanish polyphony. Another option is the participation of instruments, especially wind, whose use in Spanish sacred music is well documented. However, it is hard to determine exactly how often and when they were used. The Missa Prudentes virgines is performed with voices alone which guarantees an optimum audibility of the text. That is also due to the excellent singing, without any vibrato, and the perfect diction. The acoustic suggests a rather small venue. I probably would have preferred a little more reverberation, even though that goes at the cost of the audibility of the text.

Albert Recasens has opted for a performance with one voice per part which seems logical considering the venue of the recording. Again it is hard to tell how large the choirs at the time were. In many cases liturgical music like this will have been performed with larger forces. On the other hand, one may assume that masses and motets were also sung in smallish chapels, and that could justify an ensemble of the size La Grande Chapelle's size in this recording.

Once again La Grande Chapelle demonstrates its outstanding qualities, and its director his willingness to bring little-known repertoire to our attention. I have recommended every previous recording by this ensemble and I do so once again. As one does expect from this label, this disc comes with comprehensive documentation, including not only extensive programme notes and the lyrics with translations, but also a list of sources, a bibliography and information about the pictures in the booklet. Exemplary!

If you like classical polyphony, don't miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

La Grande Chapelle

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