Victoria: Tenebrae Responsories

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COMPOSERS: Victoria
LABELS: Gimell
WORKS: Tenebrae Responsories
PERFORMER: Tallis Scholars/Peter Philips
CATALOGUE NO: 454 922-2 Reissue 1990
Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories follow a strictly prescribed liturgical sequence in which the church is gradually clothed in complete darkness as 15 candles are extinguished one by one during the evenings preceding the final days of Holy Week. The ceremony may have been revised, but Victoria’s potent music still retains its capacity to move the spirit.

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The Tallis Scholars present a robust ensemble whose exquisite technical precision and focused intimacy in smaller groupings certainly capture this music’s dramatic intensity. However, their highly polished refinement (in brightly lit recording) is curiously short on both spontaneity and atmosphere. For instance, David Hill’s Westminster Cathedral choristers generate increased animation in ‘Eram quasi Agnus’ and give a more convincingly heartfelt expression of inconsolable sorrow in ‘Caligaverunt oculi mei’.

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Overall, then, notwithstanding the Tallis Scholars’s exceptional vocal accomplishment in these performances, the Westminster Cathedral Choir’s 1989 version remains the most spiritually vibrant account of Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories. Nicholas Rast