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Concert reviews

Cristóbal DE MORALES (c1500-1553): Lamentations
concert: Nov 5, 2019, Utrecht, Pieterskerk

[in order of performance] JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450/55-1521): Miserere mei Deus; plainchant: Passionarum Toletanum: Daleth; Cristóbal DE MORALES: Lamentatio: De lamentatione Jeremiae. Coph; Adriaen TUBAL (bef 1529-1563): Tristis est anima mea; Cristóbal DE MORALES: Lamentatio: Zain; plainchant: Passionarum Toletanum: Zain; Adriaen TUBAL: O vos omnes; Cristóbal DE MORALES: Lamentatio: Aleph; plainchant: Passionarum Toletanum: Et factum est; Cristóbal DE MORALES: Lamentatio: Et factum est; Gaspar VAN WEERBEKE (c1445-after 1517): Tenebrae factae sunt; JOSQUIN DESPREZ: Ave verum corpus

Amelia Berridge, soprano; Bart Uvyn, alto; Adriaan De Koster, tenor; Lieven Termont, baritone; Pieter Stas, bass

Cristóbal de Morales, Francesco Guerrero and Tomás Luis de Victoria are generally considered the big three of the Spanish renaissance, often called 'El siglo de oro' - the Golden Age. Of these three, Victoria is undoubtedly the most frequently-performed, whereas Morales is probably the least-known. His music is not that often performed and it is telling that the complete recording of his Lamentations by the Belgian ensemble Utopia, released by Et'cetera in 2016, seems to be the first ever.

He was from Seville and it seems likely that he received his musical education from Francisco de Peñalosa and Pedro de Escobar. However, the most decisive influence on his development as a composer came from Rome where he joined the papal chapel in 1535. His second book of motets was devoted to Pope Paul III. In the 1540s he published a large part of his compositional output, among them two books with masses and a book with Magnificat settings. In 1545 he was granted a leave of ten months; he settled in Spain and never returned, mainly due to his ill health. The strong Roman influence on his oeuvre has resulted in his being considered a 'foreign composer' in Spain.

Since ancient times, the Lamentations of Jeremiah were sung during Holy Week, more in particular the triduum sacrum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday. In 1506 Ottaviano Petrucci published the first collection of polyphonic settings of the Lamentations, which soon gained wide popularity. Morales added his settings in the 1530s, when he was a singer in the papal chapel. However, they were only published posthumously in 1564. Whether they became part of the repertoire of the chapel is not known.

It is not entirely clear how many settings by Morales have come down to us; at least the information in New Grove is a little confusing. It says that the edition of 1564 includes four settings by Morales, whereas the remaining five attributed to him are by Costanzo Festa. These are for four to six voices. In his liner-notes to Utopia's programme, Bart Vandewege mentions seven settings which are all for five voices. New Grove also lists five-part settings, but suggests that these are different from those in the 1564 edition. This is all a little confusing.

Utopia had selected four of the seven. These were performed in a setting of music for the triduum sacrum. The programme started with Josquin Desprez's setting of Miserere mei Deus, one of the penitential psalms. It was an appopriate choice, not only from a liturgical angle, but also stylistically, as Morales was more strongly influenced by the Franco-Flemish school than Spanish composers of later generations. In addition to Morales's polyphonic settings of the Lamentations, we also heard plainchant versions from the so-called Passionarum Toletanum, included in a collection printed in 1516 under the title In officina Arnaldi Guillelmi. It seems likely that Morales used these melodies as the basis for his settings.

It was quite interesting that the programme also included pieces by some little-known composers. That certainly goes for Adriaen Tubal, a Flemish composer about whom next to nothing is known. Only ten motets and five chansons from his pen have come down to us. Two of his motets were performed, both on texts from the Tenebrae Responsories: Tristis est anima mea and O vos omnes. A little better known, but still a largely unknown quantity to many music lovers, whose music is not often performed is Gaspar Van Weerbeke, another representative of the Franco-Flemish school, who for some time worked at the court of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza at Milan. His motet Tenebrae factae sunt, another text from the Tenebrae Responsories, is quite expressive, especially the setting of the words of Jesus at the Cross: "Deus meus, ut quid derelinquisti me?" (My God, why hast thou forsaken me?).

The concert fittingly closed with another motet by Josquin, Ave verum corpus, one of the best-known texts from the Catholic tradition.

The five singers of the ensemble made effective use of the space of the Pieterskerk. This medieval church is pre-eminently suited for this kind of repertoire, not only acoustically, but also from the angle of architecture. It allowed the singers to position themselves at different spots for the various elements in the programme. The singers shaped the polyphonic lines beautifully, with immaculate legato. The latter came especially to the fore in the melismatic lines on the Hebrew letters which introduce every section of the lamentations. The subtle expression in the Lamentations by Morales as well as the motets of the other composers came off perfectly. The plainchant was sometimes sung by a solo voice, but mostly by several members of the ensemble. Questionable was here the mixture of the female soprano and the male voices.

All in all, this was an event to remember, and I suspect that members of the audience may have been encouraged to look for Utopia's complete recording of Morales's Lamentations.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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