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CD reviews






Renaissance polyphony for Lent and Holy Week

[I] Cristóbal DE MORALES: "Lamentabatur Iacob - Music for Lent"
La Grande Chapelle
Dir: Albert Recasens
rec: Sept 30 - Oct 2, 2018, Pernegg (A), Stift Pernegg
Lauda - LAU019 (© 2019) (63'15")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/ES; lyrics - translations: E/F/ES
Cover & track-list
Scores

Accepit Iesus panes a 4; Circumdederunt me a 5; Clamabant auteme mulier a 5; Emendemus in melius a 5; Immutemur habitu a 4; In illo tempore: Cum turba plurima a 4; In illo tempore: Stabant autem a 4; Inter veestibulum et altare a 4; Lamentabatur Iacob a 5; O crux ave spes unica a 5; Peccantem me quotidie a 4; Per tuam crucem a 4; Quanti mercenarii a 6; Simile est regnum coelorum a 4; Vigilate et orate a 4

Perrine Devillers, soprano; Gabriel Díaz Cuesta, Benedict Hymas, alto; Andrés Miravete, Javier Martínez Carmena, tenor; Romain Bockler, baritone; Ulfried Staber, basss

[II] "O crux benedicta - Lent and Holy Week at the Sistine Chapel"
Sistine Chapel Choir
Dir: Massimo Palombella
rec: March 3 [- 8, 2018, Vatican, Sistine Chapel
DGG - 483 5673 (© 2018) (75'22")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list
Spotify
Scores Palestrina

Felice ANERIO (c1560-1614): Voce mea a 8; anon: O Redemptor a 4 (attr Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina); Costanzo FESTA (c1490-1545): Miserere mei Deus a 9; Gabriel GÁLVEZ (c1510-1578): Emendemus in melius a 5; Orlandus LASSUS (c1532-1594): Adoramus te, Christe a 5 [6]; Ave Regina coelorum a 4 [6]; Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (c1525-1594): Audi, benigne conditor a 5; Exaltabo te, Domine a 5 [5]; Exsultate Deo a 5 [3]; O sacrum convivium a 5 [1]; Popule meus a 8; Pueri Hebraeorum a 4; Stabat mater a 8; Surrexit pastor bonus a 8; Terra tremuit a 5 [5]; Vexilla regis prodeunt a 5; plainchant: Misereris omnium, Domine; Cipriano DE RORE (c1515/16-1565): O crux benedicta a 4; Francesco ROSSELLO (c1510-after 1577): Adoramus te, Christe a 5; Francesco SORIANO (1548/49-1621): Gloria, laus et honor a 4; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548-1611): Regina coeli a 5 [2]; Vedre languores nostros a 4 [4] Sources: [1] Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Motettorum liber secundus, 1572; [2] Tomás Luis de Victoria, Motecta, 1572; [3] Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Motectorum liber quintus, 1584; [4] Tomás Luis de Victoria, Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae, 1585; [5] Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Offertoria totius anni, 1593; [6] Orlandus Lassus, Magnum opus musicum, 1604

[III] Palestrina: "Lamentations - Book 2"
Cinquecento
rec: Sept 11 - 13, 2018, Vienna, Kartause Mauerbach
Hyperion - CDA68284 (© 2019) (71'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Terry Wey, alto; Tore Tom Denys, Achim Schulz, tenor; Tom Scott Whiteley, baritone; Ulfried Staber, bass
with: Bernd Oliver Fröhlich, Jan Petryka, Vojtech Semerád, tenor

[IV] Palestrina: "Volume 8"
The Sixteen Dir: Harry Christophers
rec: March 20 - 22, 2019, London, Church of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn
Coro - COR16175 (© 2019) (73'21")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Spotify
Scores

Accepit Jesus calicem a 6 [2]; Caro mea vere est cibus a 8; Duo ubera tua a 5 [3]; Ego sum panis vivus a 5 [1]; Fratres ego enim accepit a 8; Missa Fratres ego enim accepit a 8 [6]; Pange lingua a 5 [4]; Pater noster a 5 [2]; Quam pulchra es [3]; Quam pulchri sunt gressus tui 3]; Sacerdotes Domini a 5 [5]; Victimae paschali laudes

[1] Motettorum liber secundus, 1572; [2] Motettorum liber tertius, 1575; [3] Motettorum liber quartus ex Canticis canticorum, 1584; [4] Hymni totius anni, 1589; [5] Offertoria totius anni, 1593; [6] Missae quatuor, 1601

Julie Cooper, Katy Hill, Alexandra Kidgell, Charlotte Mobbs, Emilia Morton, Ruth Provost, soprano; Kim Porter, contralto; Ian Aitkenhead, Daniel Collins, Edward McMullan, alto; Simon Berridge, Jeremy Budd, Mark Dobell, George Pooley, tenor; Ben Davies, Eamonn Dougan, Tim Jones, Rob Macdonald, bass

The forty day period from Ash Wednesday to Easter, known as Lent, is one of the key moments in the ecclesiastical year of the Christian Church of the West. Its importance has resulted in a large repertoire, and the celebrations associated with it culminate in Holy Week, and in particular its last three days, known as Triduum Sacrum. During these days, the Lamentations of Jeremiah and the Tenebrae Responsories are performed.

The discs under review here cover the whole Lent period in different ways. The earliest start makes Albert Recasens, who, with his ensemble La Grande Chapelle [I], recorded music by the Spanish composer Cristóbal de Morales, the first composer of what was to become known as the Spanish Golden Age (Siglo de Oro). The pieces in the programme are divided into three chapters. The second and third focus on a part of Lent. The first chapter includes pieces for tempus septuagesimae, the third Sunday before Lent. It was originally intended as preparation for the Lent season. Only the introitus Circumdederunt me refers to the Passion of Christ: "I am surrounded by the grounds of Death, I am surrounded by the pains of Hell". The two other pieces, an antiphon and a responsory respectively, are about two of Jesus' parables.

The next chapter is devoted to tempus quadragesimae, the period of Lent itself. It starts on Ash Wednesday, and that is what the antiphon Immutemur habitu/Iuxta vestibulum refers to: "Let us change our cloths for sackcloth and ashes; let us fast and weep before the Lord". The text is taken from the book of the prophet Joel (ch 2). The second part of this text is picked up in Inter vestibulum et altare. Among the better-known and frequently-set texts are Emendemus in melius ("Let us make amends for the sins we have committed through ignorance") and Peccantem me quotidie ("Each day I sin and am unrepentant, but the fear of death perturbs me"). Lamentabatur Jacob, which gave this disc its title, is a responsory for the third Sunday of Lent, and is a lament of Jacob, when he is told that his son Joseph is dead.

The last chapter comprises four pieces connected to the Passion of Christ. O crux ave, spes unica expresses the hope for Jesus' "pardon for sinners". In illo tempore: Stabant autem is about one of Jesus' words from the Cross, when he orders his disciple John to take care of his mother Mary. Vigilate et orate is a motet on a text from St Matthew (ch 26), where Jesus, praying at the Mount of Olives, urges his disciples: "Watch and pray that you don't fall into temptation". This motet is liturgically intended for Palm Sunday. The last piece, Per tuam crucem, is for Good Friday: "By your cross, save us, Christ the Redeemer".

Spanish music is sometimes performed with instruments, playing colla voce. Albert Recasens is rather sceptical about this habit, and doubts its historical foundation. In this music it is probably not justified anyway. This repertoire is rather intimate, and focuses on contemplation and repentance. That comes off very well here, thanks to the way these pieces are performed by this excellent ensemble. The transparency of the sound and the clarity of the way the lines are shaped, are admirable. Morales was an important composer in his time and after, but does not receive the same attention as later Spanish composers, such as Victoria and Guerrero. This disc is another major step towards a recognition of Morales. It is hard to find better advocates of his music than La Grande Chapelle.

The next disc takes Ash Wednesday as the start of a programme with music for Lent. As the music is performed by the Sistine Chapel Choir [II], it is not surprising that most of the music is from the pen of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. In the second half of the 16th century, he was the main composer in Rome, and for a long time after his death, and again in the 19th century, he was considered the perfect embodiment of the ideals of the Council of Trent with regard to liturgical music. For this particular choir, his music is food and drink, and as Palestrina worked in the Cappella Giulia and St Peter's for several decades, the choir has an easy access to his oeuvre.

However, the programme also includes pieces by other composers, whose music is included in the Sistine Chapel Collection. Several of them are hardly known today. That certainly goes for the Spanish composer Gabriel Gálvez, who - like Morales and later Victoria - worked for some time in Rome. We hear a motet on the text that was also set by Morales (included in La Grande Chapelle's recording): Emendemus in melius. It is performed here as a motet for Ash Wednesday. The next section comprises music for Palm Sunday. It opens with the hymn Gloria, laus et honor by Francesco Soriano: "Glory and honour and praise be to you, Christ, King and Redeemer, to whom young children cried out loving Hosannas with joy". Soriano was one of Palestrina's pupils, and ended his career as maestro di capella of the Cappella Giulia.

Palestrina's motet Vexilla regis opens the chapter devoted to Holy Week: "The Banners of the King issue forth, the mystery of the Cross does gleam, where the Creator of flesh, in the flesh, from the cross-bar is hung". His motet O sacrum convivium is intended for Maundy Thursday, when the institution of the Eucharist is celebrated: "O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received". The seven penitential psalms were sung during Lent, and here one of them, Miserere mei Deus by Costanzo Festa, is part of the section devoted to Good Friday. This chapter also includes one of Palestrina's best-known works, his Stabat mater for eight voices in two choirs. The antiphon Adoramus te, Christe is by Francesco Rossello, another unknown quantity. He was of French birth (François Roussel) and worked for about 15 years at the Cappella Giulia as magister puerorum. This part ends with the motet O crux benedicta by Cipriano de Rore, a composer who is almost exclusively known for his madrigals.

Whereas La Grande Chapelle ended on Good Friday, the Sistine Chapel Choir closes with a chapter of music for Easter. It opens with a very common text, Surrexit pastor bonus: "The Good Shepherd has risen, who laid down his life for his sheep". This setting of a communion antiphon by Palestrina is followed by his setting of the offertory antiphon Terra tremuit, about the earthquake which took place when Jesus arose from the dead. As the veneration of Mary took a central place in the Catholic liturgy, it is fitting that the programme ends with a setting of the antiphon Regina caeli by Tomás Luis de Victoria: "Queen of heaven, rejoice, for he whom you were worthy to bear, has risen as he said; pray for us to God, alleluia".

In recent years I have reviewed several discs by the Sistine Chapel Choir, documenting its turn to historical performance practice under the guidance of Massimo Palombella. I have described the features of their performances in those reviews. They manifest themselves here as well. Among them are a more free treatment of tempo and dynamics than is common practice in performances of Renaissance polyphony. A most striking example is Palestrina's Stabat mater. I am sure you have heard that piece many times, but I assure you that you have never heard it as it is sung here.

Unfortunately Palombella has ceased his position as director of the choir, as he has been under investigation for financial fraud. This leaves the future of the choir in the dark. It is to be hoped that a successor will continue on the path of a historically-oriented performance of the repertoire for which this choir is pre-eminently suited.

Part of the core repertoire for Holy Week are the Lamentations of Jeremiah [III], which were sung during the Triduum Sacrum, the last three days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Numerous settings have been written in the renaissance and the baroque periods. It is rather odd that Palestrina's settings are seldom performed. All of them are available on disc, but mostly in just one recording. They deserve to be part of the standard repertoire for Passiontide.

Palestrina's oeuvre includes four books of Lamentations; a fifth is of doubtful authenticity. Only the first book was printed during Palestrina's lifetime; the others have been preserved in manuscript. At this time composers of sacred music usually didn't care very much about text expression, although one will find pieces in which text and music are closely connected, for instance in the oeuvre of Lassus. Palestrina is first and foremost interested in an optimum clarity of the text: polyphony and homophony alternate, but imitation - which results in various voices singing different parts of the text simultaneously - is usually avoided. Cinquecento recorded the second book, which is basically for four voices. However, now and then the number of parts is extended to five or reduced to three. Each lesson ends with the refrain: "Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum" - "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God". The refrain of every third lesson is in five parts, but the last of the entire book is for eight voices.

Cinquecento strictly performs the Lamentations with one voice per part. Bruno Turner, in his liner-notes, quotes the Italian theorist and singer Pietro Cerone, who in his treatise El melopeo y maestro (1613) writes that "[the] manner of composing the Lamentations is such that all the parts proceed with gravity and modesty (...). They are always sung by very low and sonorous voices, all adult men, with only once voice to a part". For the last refrain, the five members of Cinquecento are joined by additional singers, just for a little more than two minutes of music. Cinquecento's performances show "gravity and modesty" (Cerone) to perfection. The immaculate blending of the voices and the perfect intonation contribute to these Lamentations making a lasting impression. The acoustic is exactly right: there is enough space around the voices, but without compromising the intimacy these pieces require. I very much hope that Cinquecento will record the other three books of Lamentations as well.

The latest volume in the series which Harry Christophers and The Sixteen [IV] devote to Palestrina does not include music specifically intended for Passiontide. Its core is rather the Feast of Corpus Christi, "a Christian liturgical solemnity celebrating the Real Presence of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Eucharist" (Wikipedia). It is celebrated in June. However, as the Eucharist refers to the Last Supper, shortly before Jesus' crucifixion and death, several pieces for this feast can also be sung during Holy Week. That is the case, for instance, with the motet Fratres ego enim accepi, which is a setting of verses from the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (ch 2, vs23-24), in which he explains how the Eucharist was instituted. "Brethren, I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you that the Lord Jesus (...) took bread (...)". On this motet Palestrina based his mass of the same title, which is the centrepiece of this disc. Both are scored for eight voices in two choirs, according to the Roman layout of two groups of equal line-up (SATB/SATB). The head motif of the motet - two falling intervals in soprano and alto - is quoted at the start of each section of the mass.

Accepit Deus calicem can also be sung during Holy Week; its text is in fact the continuation of Fratres ego enim accepi. The latter confines itself to the first element, the bread, whereas here it is added that "Jesus took the cup after having supped, saying: This cup is a new testament in my blood (...)". The motet is for six voices; two of them move in canon. The disc opens with a motet specifically for Corpus Christi, Ego sum panis vivus: "I am the living bread which came down from Heaven". It is for five voices with two sopranos, and has the form of a responsory (ABCB). Closely connected to this motet is Caro mea vere est cibus: "For my flesh is meat indeed". It is again for two choirs, but here Palestrina follows the Venetian rather than the Roman scoring as he juxtaposes a high and a low choir.

Pange lingua and Victimae paschali laudes again connect Corpus Christi to Holy Week, or, in case of the latter motet, to Easter. The former is a hymn, whose stanzas are sung alternately in four-part polyphony and plainchant. The key stanza is 'Tantum ergo sacramentum': "Let us venerate the Sacrament with bowed head", and its importance is emphasized in that Palestrina adds a sixth voice. This piece could also be sung during Holy Week. Victimae paschali laudes is a sequence for Easter Sunday: "Let Christians declare their praises to the Paschal Victim".

Like every volume in this project, the programme includes three of the motets on texts from the Song of Songs. They are different in that these pieces were probably not intended for liturgical performance, but rather for private gatherings. From that perspective, a performance with one voice per part would be preferable, but that is not the case here.

I have reviewed the previous volumes, and although these are not my ideal interpretations, I recommended them, and do that again here. Despite his importance, a large part of Palestrina's oeuvre is little known, also because it is so large. It is particularly nice that in this series we hear masses that don't belong to the Palestrina canon. The singing of The Sixteen is solid, and some especially extroverted passages are sung with appropriate exuberance. Overall the blending of the voices is rather good. If you have purchased the previous volumes, don't hesitate to add this sequel.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Cinquecento
La Grande Chapelle
Sistine Chapel Choir
The Sixteen


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