COMPOSERS: de Rore,Lassus,Morales,Palestrina,Victoria & Esteves
WORKS: Masses and motets by Lassus, De Rore, Palestrina, Morales, Victoria & Esteves
PERFORMER: Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
CATALOGUE NO: NI 1758 Reissue (1987-96)
Under Stephen Darlington’s direction, the choir of Christ Church, Oxford, communicates the remarkable variety in Lassus’s Mass settings with brilliant lucidity. A pleasingly fresh aural image (emphasised by bright recorded sound) illuminates the astonishingly concentrated detail in the Missa Venatorum and unfolds the rich counterpoint in the Missa Qual Donna with stylish elegance. This choir’s attractively unforced singing also produces delightfully gentle accounts of ‘Tristis est anima’, ‘Exaltabo te Domine’ and ‘De profundis clamavi’, confirming Lassus’s mastery of musical imagery. The Palestrina pieces further demonstrate the benefits of performing this repertoire with musicians versed in the liturgy.
Darlington judges the relationship between the linear and harmonic aspects in the Dum complerentur and O sacrum convivium Mass settings with persuasive authority. A relaxed pulse underlines the mellifluousness of the melodic writing, broadening both at cadences and at significant moments in the text, most notably in the ‘et incarnatus’ at the heart of the Credo and the impassioned pleading in the Agnus Dei. Beautiful control in a selection of motets gives wider proof of Palestrina’s imaginatively expressive word-painting. Victoria’s more outgoing style generates an increased diversity of vocal groupings that mirror textual details.
Darlington and his choir define the structural shape of this composer’s Missa Dum complerentur and Missa Simile est regnum with crystal clarity. Their delicious tonal control in Victoria’s richer harmonic language is most striking, though, making this one of the special treasures in Christ Church’s collection. Esteves’s 18th-century spin on the Renaissance polyphony he took for his models creates peculiar inconsistencies. Although his eight-part Mass has some effective moments, its contrapuntal treatment is disturbingly uneven.
The chorus/verse pattern in the Christmas Responsories is more successful, with exquisitely focused trebles in the solos. Ultimately, the general high quality of these performances place Christ Church Choir among the best interpreters of 16th-century polyphony. Nicholas Rast