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Guerrero: Magnificat, Lamentations, etc

El León de Oro/Peter Phillips, Marco Antonio García de Paz (Hyperion)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Magnificat, Lamentations & Canciones
El León de Oro/Peter Phillips, Marco Antonio García de Paz
Hyperion CDA68347   58:46 mins

The Spanish priest-composer Francisco Guerrero has tended to be overshadowed by his more famous contemporary Tomás Luis de Victoria; yet, as this programme attests, his music is a glorious fusion of Renaissance-style polyphony with more forward-looking chordal textures and stereophonic trickery.

This anthology of works ranges from the sublime to the penitential. There’s a rosary of Marian motets, including the celebrated Ave virgo sanctissima whose perfumed words are spun into a silky web complete with canonic sopranos; Regina caeli – a rapturous eight-part tapestry woven around the eponymous plainchant; and three seraphic motets scored for high voices: Sancta et immaculata, Sanctissima Maria and Si tus penas. Then there’s the exuberant double-choir setting of Psalm 125, Laudate Dominum, Guerrero delighting in the antiphonal effects of cori spezzati (split choirs). These ecstatic works contrast strikingly with the plangent setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the darkly scored Beatus Achacius oravit and the penitential motet Hei, mihi Domine, uttered here with stark immediacy.

The 38-strong Spanish choir produces a sound that is rich yet at the same time remarkably intimate and crystalline. The group’s honorary director is Peter Phillips and something of the silvery polish of his ensemble The Tallis Scholars seems to have rubbed off here. Choral textures are lucid and diction is generally clear, despite the ringing church acoustic. Throughout, the readings are restrained and introspective, and if at times one might have wished for a more expressive palette of colours, there is nonetheless a moving sincerity to these accounts.

Kate Bolton-Porciatti