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"Vidi speciosam - A Lady Mass from the 16th Century"

Tiburtina Ensemble (Barbora Kabátková); Capella de la Torre (Katharina Bäuml)

rec: June 7 - 9, 2017, Auhausen, Minster
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19075820572 (© 2018) (65'06")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list
Scores Victoria

[in order of appearance] Augustine BASSANO (1545-1604): Pavan; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548-1611): [antiphon] Asperges me a 4 [3]; plainchant: [introit] Gaudeamus omnes in domino; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA: Missa Vidi speciosam a 6 (Kyrie; Gloria) [3]; plainchant: Lectio de Sancta Maria Virgine; [gradual] Propter veritatem; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA: Missa Vidi speciosam a 6 (Credo) [3]; [antiphon] Alma redemptoris mater a 5 [1]; plainchant: [offertory] Assumpta est Maria; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA: Missa Vidi speciosam a 6 (Sanctus & Benedictus) [3]; Ave Maria a 8 [1/4]; Missa Vidi speciosam a 6 (Agnus Dei) [3]; plainchant: [communion] Optimam partem elegit; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA: [antiphon] Regina caeli laetare a 5 [1]; Regina caeli laetare a 8 [2]; plainchant: [hymn] Ave maris stella; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA: [motet] Quam pulchri sunt a 4 [1]; Magnificat 8. toni a 4 [odd] [4]; Francisco DE LA TORRE (1483-1507): Adorámoste Seńor

Sources: Tomás Luis de Victoria, [1] Motecta, 1572; [2] Liber primus: qui missas, psalmos, Magnificat ... aliaque complectitur, 1576 [3] Missae, una cum antiphonis Asperges, et Vidi aquam totius anni: liber secundus, 1592; [4] Missae, Magnificat, motecta, psalmi et alia quam plurima, 1600

[TE] Tereza Havlíková, Ivana Bilej Brouková, soprano; Anna Chadimová Havlíková, mezzo-soprano; Bernadette Beckermann, Daniela Cermáková, contralto
[CdlT] Birgit Bahr, Katharina Bäuml, shawm; Falko Munkwitz, Tural Ismayilov, sackbut; Regina Hahnke, curtal; Martina Fiedler, organ

"Mulier tacet in ecclesia" - women remain silent in church. This principle means that liturgical music from ancient times until well into the 18th century was performed by boys and men. However, there were exceptions. We know the names of several female composers from early 17th-century Italy, who were nuns in one of the many women's convents. They composed music to be sung in their own convent, but sometimes their works were also published. Few female composers from earlier times are known; the most famous of them is Hildegard of Bingen. It seems likely that there were others. There can be no doubt that liturgical music in women's convents did not only include plainchant, but also polyphony. This was the starting point for a recording of a 'Lady Mass' which focuses on the oeuvre of Tomás Luis de Victoria.

There is a good reason to turn to his oeuvre, as from 1587 until his death Victoria was maestro de capilla of the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales in Madrid, a convent of nuns of the Poor Clare order, founded in 1559. Obviously the main problem of performances of polyphony, usually scored for four or more voices from soprano to bass, is that the lower parts are beyond the reach of women. It seems possible that in some convents this problem was solved in that these parts were sung an octave higher. (I refer here to the debate about the way 'conventional' four-part compositions may have been sung in the Ospedale della Pietŕ in Venice in Vivaldi's time.) In this recording a different option is chosen. Here the lower parts are performed on wind instruments.

It is often assumed that the participation of (wind) instruments was the rule rather than the exception in the Spanish Renaissance. However, some experts have questioned this assumption. That said, there can be little doubt that instruments were used in women's convents. Peter Schmucker, in his liner-notes to this disc, gives several examples of documentary evidence of the playing of instruments in such convents, and this includes the use of bassoons in the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales. This is the main justification of the way the music is performed here.

The title of this disc includes the term "lady mass", which is a mass said specifically in honour of the Virgin Mary. Here it is Victoria's Missa Vidi speciosam, which is based on the composer's own motet. The latter's text clearly refers to the Virgin Mary: "I saw the fair one rising like a dove above the streams of water, whose priceless fragrance clung to her garments. And as on a spring day, she was surrounded by roses and lily-of-the-valley. Who is this who rises from the desert like a pillar of smoke from incense of myrrh and frankincense? And as on a spring day, she was surrounded by roses and lily-of-the-valley." The mass is embedded in a liturgical framework of pieces which are also connected to Mary. However, what we have here is not a liturgical 'reconstruction', as the programme includes pieces which are intended for different stages of the ecclesiastical year.

The polyphony is performed by the sopranos and contraltos of the Tiburtina Ensemble, with the instruments of the Capella de la Torre, which not only plays the lower parts of the polyphony, but sometimes also support the upper voices, playing colla voce. Some motets as well as some sections of the mass are performed instrumentally. One of the highlights is the eight-part motet Ave Maria. Also included is one of the two alternatim settings in the 8th church mode of the Magnificat; here we get the version in which the even verses are in plainchant, and the odd verses in polyphony. The programme closes with Adoramoste, Seńor, a villancico by Francisco de La Torre from the Cancionero de la Colombina. It is a very beautiful homophonic piece in three stanzas. However, considering the dates of birth and death of the composer, it does not fit very well into this programme.

This is a minor issue here. More important is the fact that four of the chants are taken from the Graduale Romanum of 1871, which cannot be considered a historical source. In a programme like this, the performers should stick to chants from sources of Victoria's time, such as the Graduale Romanum of 1614.

That does in no way diminish my appreciation of this recording. The performance of polyphony from this historical perspective is rather uncommon. The liturgical practices in women's convents should be thoroughly researched and musically documented. The approach to the repertoire by the two ensembles is reason enough to strongly recommend this disc. Their performances are additional arguments. The singing of the sopranos and contraltos of the Tiburtina Ensemble is excellent, and so is the playing of the Capella de la Torre. The collaboration of the ensembles is immaculate, and the voices and instruments blend perfectly.

This is a top-class disc which lovers of Renaissance polyphony should not miss.

N.B. The timing in the booklet and at the rear inlay (75'04") is incorrect.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Capella de la Torre
Tiburtina Ensemble

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