Holy Saturday, two o'clock in the morning. In churches and chapels throughout Christendom, the Passion of Christ is commemorated at the Offices of Matins and Lauds. As this long and fatiguing liturgy advances, the candles are progressively extinguished, until total darkness reigns after the Miserere… This dramatic tableau is that of the Office of Tenebrae, a ceremonial unchanged since the Middle Ages which inspired some of the most moving pieces in the whole sacred repertory, notably settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah - which under the name of 'Leçons de ténèbres' were to become a major genre of French Baroque music. In the sixteenth century, at the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the service was sung to the Lamentations of Cristóbal de Morales (1500-53), the 'light of Spain' who himself became a singer in this illustrious establishment. It is this magnificent, uniquely compelling music that Doulce Mémoire use as the basis for a new liturgical reconstruction, following on from their Requiem pour les Rois de France . As Denis Raisin-Dadre says: This music speaks to us of time, of time that is immobile, contemplative, extraordinarily concentrated… We have striven to recapture the emotion it engendered, its spirituality, through a search for absolute sincerity.
Celestial music and a celestial performance: Paul McCreesh's ingenious construction of a Mass for the Feast of St. Iisidore of Seville, as it might have been celebrated in Toledo Cathedral around 1590, deserves to be called a resplendent sonic and spiritual feast...
Morales's five-part setting of the Requiem is one of the masterpieces of the 16th century and was actually published twice during his lifetime. The 'Missa pro defunctis' follows the customary pattern of the time. Each section begins with a unison Gregorian intonation, which then continues as a cantus firmus in the upper part as the other voices spin a polyphonic texture underneath. The work avoids obvious madrigalisms, but maintains an austere, meditative texture, which is both spiritual and moving.
The liturgy of the Dead – including the Requiem Mass, the Burial Service and the Office of the dead, properly speaking – was granted considerable importance by the Spanish ecclesiastical authorities and by the local church composers from very early times. Throughout the Middle Ages, according to the extant documentary descriptions, the death of a great Lord, such as the Count of Barcelona or the sovereign of any of the Spanish kingdoms of León, Castile, Aragon or Navarre, was usually mourned with impressive ceremonies in which the solemnity of the liturgy was often enhanced by the addition of the planctus, a kind of lengthy optional lament that was sung monophonically and of which several examples have survived.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Capella Reial de Catalunya, the choir he founded in 1988, Jordo Savall has gathered four examples of their work, rich in Catalan heritage, luxuriously presented in a box and all published originally on the Astree label. In 1987, after 13 years of intense research, concerts and recordings with the ensemble Hespèrion XX, the decision to send our children to school in Catalonia led to us spending more time there and gave us the opportunity to contact and select various Romance language-speaking singers from Catalonia, Spain and other countries. Convinced of the defining influence that a country’s cultural roots and traditions inevitably have on the expression of its musical language, Montserrat Figueras and I founded La Capella Reial with the aim of creating one of the first vocal ensembles devoted exclusively to the performance of Golden Age music according to historical principles and consisting exclusively of Hispanic and Latin voices.
Stumbling by chance across this recording, you could be forgiven for assuming that it probably represents yet another foray into long lost repertoire by an insignificant composer. In reality, however, Jacquet of Mantua (1483-1559) was actually one of the most distinguished composers of sacred polyphony in the generation between Josquin and Palestrina, with a vast output comprising 23 masses, over 100 motets and many other sacred works (including a St John Passion).
It must have been difficult to find a suitable programme to follow the Gabrieli Consort’s triumphant recording of Victoria’s Requiem (Archiv, 12/95), but with this disc of Morales’s Missa Mille regretz this has certainly been achieved, and with a logical connection to the previous release.
Jordi Savall has brought us yet another treasure on his own Alia Vox label, this time a mixed bag of music by Reformation Era composers and a handful of slightly earlier works. It’s all taken from a concert program Savall gave last year under the aegis of “greatest hits of the court of Charles V”. The composers presented are mostly court musicians for that Holy Roman Emperor, but Josquin and Heinrich Isaac also are included, the latter as a nod to Charles’ grandfather, Maximilian I, who was responsible for getting Charles the crown. Savall combines his first-rate instrumental ensemble, updated to Hespèrion XXI, with his own vocal group, La Capella Reial de Catalunya. The results are captivating. Savall’s musicians are tops in the field, and their collective talents, constantly on display in this varied program, are simply a joy to hear.