Sacred Music: God's Composer
There are now several Coro BBC DVDs based on music from Christmas, Easter and the like, but this one is rather different. It attempts to trace the life and achievements of a single musician, ‘perhaps the greatest composer of polyphony in the 16th century’, the Spaniard Tomás Luis de Victoria.
With the help of a brisk factual narration by the actor Simon Russell Beale, quite a lot of ground is covered. We follow Victoria from Spain to Italy and then back again, we see original editions of his works and some of his handwriting, and we are shown evidence of the early popularity of his works in Mexico and South America. The whole is punctuated with pleasing partial performances of ten works nicely recorded in church of San Antonio de los Alemanes in Madrid (which seems not to have had a direct connection with the composer). We see, but do not hear, Victoria’s actual organ, and there is no discussion of exactly how Victoria might have composed these works (we know that Palestrina tried out ideas on the lute, for example).
The camera work and lighting are effective if somewhat routine, and the Extras (interviews, biographies of performers, trailers for other DVDs) are mostly dispensable – though there are some insightful remarks. If you have already decided that you like choral music then this will give you pleasure, but it is a celebration of tastes already acquired rather than a passionate advocate for new experiences.