Penalosa

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COMPOSERS: Penalosa
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Missa Ave Maria Peregrina; Missa Nunca Fué Pena Mayor; Sacris Solemniis
PERFORMER: Westminster Cathedral Choir/James O’Donnell
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66629 DDD
This is a timely and revealing disc. Peñalosa, described in his own day as ‘the prince of musicians’ and, by the Pope no less, as a singer who ‘displays … exquisite art’, is minimally represented on disc. Yet these two masses from the early 17th century, the golden age of Spain, are as inventive and fluent as those of any of his Franco-Flemish contemporaries.

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Like them, he used remarkable technical ingenuity as a spur to musical imagination. Often it’s inaudible – no one can recognise by ear alone a plainchant melody combined with a line of a chanson sung backwards, hidden in the rich five-part sonority of an Agnus Dei.

It’s not all cerebral though. The masses frame the hymn Sacris Solemniis, unison voices singing the Spanish hymn melody, in alternate verses with Peñalosa’s lavish polyphonic setting. Within a verse or two the melody becomes imprinted on the memory.

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The choristers of Westminster Cathedral have a rich and penetrating Continental quality. They are recorded close enough for words to be lucid without losing the spacious bloom of the cathedral’s acoustic – a glorious and radiant sound. George Pratt