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CD reviews

[I] Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548 - 1611): "Ad Vesperas - Le manuscrit inédit de Rome"
La Colombina
rec: Feb 25 - 28, Azkoita (Giupuzcoa), Church of the Convent of Santa Cruz
K617 - K617209 (© 2008) (74'06")

[II] Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA: "Paribus Vocibus"
Lluis Vich Vocalis
rec: May 7 - 9, 2005, Valencia, Universitat-Estudi General (Capella Sapičncia)
la mŕ de guido - LMG4006 (© 2008) (65'33")

[I,II] Beatus vir 8. toni a 4; Confitebor tibi, Domine 4. toni a 4; Credidi 6. toni a 4; Laudate pueri 6. toni a 4
[I] Ave maris stella a 4 [3]; Beatus vir 8. toni a 4; Confitebor tibi, Domine 4. toni a 4; Dixit Dominus 1. toni a 4; Laudate Dominum 3. toni a 4; Lauda Jerusalem 7. toni a 4; Magnificat 2. toni a 4 [2]; Ne timeas Maria a 4 [1]; Nisi Dominus 6. toni a 4; Quam pulchri sunt gressus tui a 4 [1]; Sancta Maria succurre miseris a 4 [1]; Senex puerum portabat a 4 [1]; Veni sponsa Christi a 4 [5]
[II] Domine non sum dignus a 4 [4]; Duo Seraphim a 4 [4]; Jesum tradidit impius a 4 [6]; Judas mercator possimus a 4 [6]; Magnificat 6. toni a 4 (II) [2]; Magnificat 7. toni a 4 (II) [2]; O regem caeli a 4 [1]; O sacrum convivium a 4 [1]; O vos omnes a 4 [6]; Salvete flores martyrum a 4 [3]; Tenebrae factae sunt a 4 [6]

(Sources: [1] Motecta, 1572; [2] Cantica Beatae Virginis, 1581; [3] Hymni totius anni, 1581; [4] Motecta, 1583; [5] Motecta festorum totius anni, 1585; [6] Officium hebdomadae sanctae, 1585)

[I] Raquel Andueza, soprano; José Hernández Pastor, alto; Josep Benet, tenor; Josep Cabré, baritone
[II] Pedro Castro, Ignasi de Lekerika, Jesús Ruíz de Cenzano, Vicente Abril, Santiago Abril, Ricardo Sanjuán, tenor; Marc Solano, José Luis Vicente, Antonio Sabuco, Luis Vicente, Ximo Martí, Ignasi Martí, bass

The recordings to be reviewed here are the result of a remarkable discovery which took place about 35 years ago. The German musicologist Klaus Fischer found a manuscript with compositions by Victoria in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Rome. It contained 10 psalms for 4 voices for Solemn Vespers. Although his name appears in the manuscript it was impossible to confirm Victoria's authorship with any certainty. More extensive research has led to the authentication of these psalms. They were never published, although the introductory letter shows that Victoria had the intention of publishing them.

The works have been transcribed and edited by Esteban Hernández Castelló, who also writes about the manuscript in the booklet of La Colombina's recording. All psalms are for four voices and follow the alternatim practice which was very common at the time. This means that the verses are sung in turns polyphonically and in plainchant.

"It is virtually impossible to arrange a single office of Vespers with this set of psalms, because of their tones, because of the specific and disparate religious feasts with which they are associated, and, naturally, because of their number: there are ten psalms, whereas a vesper office can accommodate only five (or four, in certain monastic traditions)", Josep Cabré writes in the booklet of the recording by La Colombina. What we have here is a anthology from which chapel masters could pick and choose what was suitable for a specific liturgical occasion. Therefore La Colombina doesn't present a kind of liturgical reconstruction. But every psalm is preceded by an antiphon for a specific feast. This way one gets at least some sort of impression of how the psalms were used in liturgy. For instance, Laudate Jerusalem is preceded by the antiphon Viderunt eam filiae Sion 'In Festo Maternitatis B. Mariae V.'.

La Colombina was facing two other problems. According to Josep Cabré these works were probably intended to be sung by a cappella consisting of more singers than his ensemble uses. This is how four of the psalms are performed by Lluis Vich Vocalis, which has six tenors and six basses. And this brings to the second problem. These psalms are written for equal voices, vocibus paribus. The tracklist of La Colombina's recording is not very accurate in this regard: only in four cases 'vocibus paribus' is added to the title of the psalm. "We have resolved this issue by transposing them until they are 'converted' into psalms for mixed voices, thus following and perhaps even 'exaggerating' the standard practice of the time of adapting the music to the available forces".

This seems no problem, and the recording by Lluis Vich Vocalis gives an opportunity to hear the music in the 'original' scoring. That is to say: interestingly Victoria adds to any psalm "de tiples" (for trebles). This indicates that these pieces are meant to be sung by high voices - boys or men - rather than tenors. Not that there is anything wrong with a performance with lower voices: as Josep Cabré indicates there was much flexibility in regard to performing practice at the time.

La Colombina has added some motets which are all dedicated to the Marian cult, together with the hymn Ave maris stella and a setting of the Magnificat. Lluis Vich Vocalis adds two Magnificat-settings and four responsories from the Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae. Salvete flores martyrum is a hymn for the Holy Innocents. The disc opens with two motets and closes with two other motets, all in two sections.

It is hardly necessary to say anything about La Colombina. It is one of the very best ensembles for the performance of renaissance polyphony, and in particular Spanish repertoire. What is sometimes noticeable in live performances, a little too much vibrato from the tenor and the baritone, is fortunately absent here. The blending of the voices is impeccable and the intonation perfect. I am less impressed by the singing of Lluis Vich Vocalis, which is a bit rough, and there is also a little more vibrato than is justifiable. But even so I think this disc is an interesting addition to the interpretation of La Colombina. For that reason I recommend them both for those who have a more than average interest in this kind of repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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