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Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548 - 1611): Lamentations of Jeremiah

[I] Tomás Luis de VICTORIA: "Lamentations of Jeremiah"
The Tallis Scholars
Dir: Peter Phillips

rec: [no date given], Oxford, Chapel of Merton College
Gimell Records - CDGIM 043 (© 2010) (64'08")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Juan Gutiérrez DE PADILLA (c1590-1664): Lamentaciones para Jueves Santo; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA: Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae: Feria V: In Coena Domini (Lectio prima; Lectio secunda; Lectio tertia); Feria VI: In Passione Domini (Lectio prima; Lectio seunda; Lectio tertia); Sabbato Sancto (Lectio prima; Lectio secunda; Lectio tertia)

Janet Coxwell, Amanda Morrison, Amy Haworth, Amy Moore, soprano; Caroline Trevor, Kim Porter, contralto; Patrick Craig, David Gould, alto; Nicholas Todd, Mark Dobell, Simon Wall, Christopher Watson, tenor; Donald Greig, Robert Macdonald, Jonathan Arnold, Stephen Charlesworth, bass

[II] Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA, Gregorio ALLEGRI: "La Cappella Sistina - Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa"
ensemble officium
Dir: Wilfried Rombach

rec: July 25, 2009 & Sept 7 - 8, 2010, Reutlingen-Gönningen, Ev. Kirche
Christophorus - CHR 77345 (© 2011) (60'49")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582-1652): Miserere mei Deus; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA: Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae: Feria V: In Coena Domini (Lectio prima; Lectio secunda; Lectio tertia); Feria VI: In Passione Domini (Lectio prima; Lectio seunda; Lectio tertia); Sabbato Sancto (Lectio prima; Lectio secunda; Lectio tertia)

Maria-Barbara Stein, Christine Fürniß, Sibylle Henn, Angelika Lenter, Christine Rombach, Kerstin Steube, Miriam Stöckle, soprano; Daniel Schreiber, Rüdiger Linn, Achim Plagge, Matthias Klosinski, tenor; Jörg Rieger, Thomas Scharr, baritone; Jens Hamann, Felix Schuler-Meybier, Joachim Höchbauer, Daniel Herrscher, bass

The Lamentations of Jeremia have been set by many composers in the renaissance and the baroque era. Among the many polyphonic settings of the 16th century those by the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria are the most frequently performed and recorded. They are part of a large collection of music for the Holy Week, and also includes Tenebrae Responsories and several Passions. This Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae was published in Rome in 1585. For this edition Victoria adapted the original version of the Lamentations which has been preserved in manuscript. "In this they are longer, less carefully organized harmonically, and less poignant in their setting of the texts", Peter Phillips writes in the liner-notes of his recording.

Unfortunately so far no ensemble has made a recording of this original version. Parts of it are now available through the recording of the ensemble officium. It performs the version as printed in 1585, complemented by those verses which Victoria had originally set, but - for whatever reason - omitted in the printed edition. These are not marked in the booklet; a comparison with the booklet of the Gimell production reveals that these are Teth. Defixae sunt in the first Lamentation for Good Friday, Aleph. Tantum in me vertit in the third Lamentation for Good Friday and Teth. Bonus est Dominus in the first Lamentation for Holy Saturday. One could argue that it is a kind of missed opportunity to perform these verses, but otherwise stick to the well-known version of 1585. More importantly, this combination of the first and the second version results in a work which did never exist.

The recording by The Tallis Scholars has also something special to offer. The collection of 1585 has two different settings of the last verse - Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum - in three of the nine Lamentations. Again the booklet doesn't give details - these are the second Lamentation for Maundy Thursday, the second Lamentation for Good Friday and the second and third Lamentations for Holy Saturday. "Arguably they should not both be sung, but since there is no firm evidence as to why the composer provided two, we decided not to leave anything out". That was a good decision, but it is a shame that the two settings are not allocated to different tracks. This would have allowed the listener to choose and to hear either setting as part of the Lamentation.

How do these two recordings compare as far as the performances are concerned? The Tallis Scholars are the better-known ensemble and every lover of renaissance music knows what to expect. In fact, over the years little has changed in the way the ensemble performs classical polyphony. There is also little difference between the various kinds of repertoire. That is one of the features which is up for criticism. Technically The Tallis Scholars are hard to surpass. Everything is under control, and the entries are always equal. But as far as the interpretation is concerned I often long for a more differentiated approach. That regards dynamics, for instance: there is little differentation within phrases in The Tallis Scholars' performances. And that is one of the features of the ensemble officium. It may be less technically perfect, its sound is more relaxed, probably also due to the lower pitch which they have adopted. The reason for that is that the ensemble doesn't make use of altos. The alto parts are taken by the tenors which makes a downward transposition inevitable.
Because of the differences between the versions which which they have recorded and in regard to performance these two recordings are no direct competitors.

The Tallis Scholars have extended their programme with the Lamentations for Maundy Thursday by Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla. He was a Spanish composer who travelled to Mexico where he became first assistant maestro de capilla in 1622 and then succeeded the maestro de capilla Gaspar Fernandes in 1629. He held this position until his death. His Lamentations consist of three sections - Aleph, Beth and Ghimel - and concludes with the common verse 'Jerusalem'. It is a nice piece which is well sung by The Tallis Scholars.

Wilfried Rombach has chosen a far better-known work, the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri. It is an example of the use of the stile antico by Italian composers of the 17th century. This work is mostly performed in a version which has little to do with what Allegri has written. In his liner-notes Rombach describes how this work has developed into the form which is best-known today. "For this recording we have permitted ourselves the liberty of blending a variety of versions, particularly in the sections for the second choir, not only to demonstrate the work's history of reception, but also to achieve a climactic progression which is surely in keeping with the original intentions in the performance of this work". That was a pretty bad idea, and the closing remark is nothing but whishful thinking. Like with Victoria's Lamentations we hear a piece of music here which in fact never existed. This has nothing to do with historical performance practice. There is nothing wrong with the performance, but it is certainly not better than other recordings which are available.

To sum up, both recordings have their merits, but neither of them can fully satisfy.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

ensemble officium
The Tallis Scholars

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