WORKS: Officium defunctorum; Vadam et circuibo civitatem
PERFORMER: Musica Ficta/Raúl Mallavibarrena
CATALOGUE NO: EN 2006
Victoria’s Office of the Dead, written for the obsequies of the Empress Maria of Austria in 1603, was his last work – a stark, anguished outpouring and an aptly reflective swansong. Until recently, all the available recordings were by British vocal groups, but in the last few months two new versions have appeared offering very different approaches: the Italian choir La Stagione Armonica on Symphonia (reviewed in April) and the Spanish-based Musica Ficta on Enchiriadis.
While some English choirs use male voices only, Musica Ficta has opted for 13 mixed voices, and by singing at original pitch, rather than transposing the work up as some other ensembles have done, they produce an aptly dark, tenebrous sound. The work’s mellow sonorities are further enhanced by using an organ and dulcian (an early type of bassoon) to double the bass line, while the resonant church acoustic adds a lustrous gloss. The performance, directed by Raúl Mallavibarrena, is intensely felt – unyielding and ultimately disconsolate in its implacable, measured tread. There are some imperfections in ensemble and intonation and although these do not seriously detract from the underlying musicality of this account, my first choice would nonetheless be the Tallis Scholars whose acidic, higher-pitched reading cuts to the core. Kate Bolton