Tenebrae Responsories; O Domine Jesu Christe
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902272
Victoria seems to have composed these works in Rome since they were published in 1585, two years before he returned to his native Spain. The texts come from services commemorating the dramatic events of Holy Week including that ‘dark’ (‘tenebrae’) period when Christ was ‘out of action’ between his crucifixion and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. These settings were performed after readings from the scriptures – they ‘respond’ to them, hence their name – and their subjects range widely across dramatic narrative, direct speech by Jesus, penitential reflection and much else besides.
Stile Antico is a vastly experienced ensemble and projects these pieces with poise, technical finesse and nuance. Their account of Christ’s betrayal by Peter (‘Jesum tradidit’), for example, captures wonderfully the fateful atmosphere of that event, and Christ’s words in ‘Una Hora’ (Could you not watch one hour with me?) are projected with magical singing from the sopranos. The one serious rival to this recording is by Nigel Short’s ensemble – confusingly called Tenebrae – issued on Signum Classics in 2013. Their version of ‘Amicus meus’, where Christ himself speaks of his betrayal, begins quietly and moves inexorably towards the anguish of Judas hanging himself. We have a similar control from Stile Antico, but slightly less direction, and although the latter have a more resonant acoustic (which gives them ‘body’) the texture is less clear. Both ensembles reflect impeccable English choral traditions, but the harrowing subjects here would probably suit, in a different way, the more fervent (if rougher) Spanish or Italian singing styles.