WORKS: Missa Maria Magdalene; motets
PERFORMER: Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
CATALOGUE NO: 454 931-2
Under the direction of James O’Donnell, Westminster Cathedral Choir has recorded several discs of early Hispanic music: here they turn to a composer who, along with Victoria, was the most celebrated of the Siglo d’oro. Guerrero means ‘warrior’, but the works chosen for this recording are sublime and reflective, many of them dedicated to the Virgin. The 36-strong choir is here in its finest form, the boys producing an aptly immaculate sound with a bittersweet edge that makes these Marian outpourings all the more affecting. O’Donnell’s approach is contemplative, the ponderous tempi being well-suited to this repertoire and the huge acoustic of Westminster Cathedral; but the choir lets rip at the end in a boisterous performance of the hymn ‘Lauda mater ecclesia’.
Guerrero was maestro at Seville Cathedral, where one of the choirboys under his wing was Alonso Lobo. Lobo’s Mass based on Guerrero’s motet Maria Magdalene is the main work on the most recent offering by the Tallis Scholars. Despite their connection, the music of these two composers is quite different: Lobo’s angular lines and cross-rhythms replace Guerrero’s suavity; and the younger composer prefers more varied and transparent textures. The Tallis Scholars respond with buoyant, agile singing: their sound is luscious in the Sanctus of the Mass; lively in the Hosanna; limpid in the exquisite Benedictus, and pure honey in the Agnus. One of Lobo’s most anguished works is his motet for the funeral of Philip II, Versa est in luctum, which the choir performs with controlled intensity. Much ink has been spilt over what is often described as the ‘bland purity’ of the English choral tradition: these two discs go to show that our choirs are one of our finest and most underrated assets.