From Spain to Eternity

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COMPOSERS: Guerrero,Lobo,Morales & Tejeda
LABELS: Archiv Produktion
ALBUM TITLE: From Spain to Eternity
WORKS: Works by Guerrero, Lobo, Morales & Tejeda
PERFORMER: Ensemble Plus Ultra
CATALOGUE NO: 479 2610

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To mark the 400th anniversary of the death of El Greco, Ensemble Plus Ultra presents a gallery of sacred vocal works by composers associated with the painter’s adoptive city, Toledo. Among its many treasures are Alonso Lobo’s transcendent motet Versa est in luctum, written for the obsequies of Philip II of Spain – its profoundly mournful sentiments imbued with a sense of raw, private grief, in contrast with the many larger-scale choral performances – and the Lamentation Expandit Sion manus suas by Morales, the plangent, arching lines of which are hauntingly shaped in this account. A setting of King David’s lament on the death of his son Absalom by little-known composer Alonso de Tejeda plumbs the depths of human grief in its tenebrous colours and madrigalesque dissonances, starkly highlighted by individual voices here.

The veil of mourning lifts for the centrepiece of the disc, Lobo’s five-voice Missa Prudentes virgines. Thanks to the ensemble’s modest resources, the contrapuntal brilliance of the Mass shines through, notably in the complex canonic Hosannas, where the delivery is clean and agile, the texture never muddied by the wash of sound produced by a large choir (though the lower voices are a shade distant in the balance). The effect is still opulent: texts are painted with a vivid dynamic range and (dare I say it?) the occasional expressive vibrato – a far-cry from what has been denigrated as the ‘white-washed’ tone of English vocal ensembles. The results – intimate yet intense – are a fitting reflection of Counter-Reformation ethos, epitomised in the turbulent works of El Greco.

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Kate Bolton