COMPOSERS: Tomás Luis de Victoria
ALBUM TITLE: Victoria: Tenebrae Responsaries
WORKS: Tenebrae Responsaries: for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday
PERFORMER: Tenebrae/Nigel Short
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD344
These works, published in 1585, were designed to be performed following readings from the scriptures – they ‘respond’ to them, hence their name. The texts come from services commemorating that dark (tenebrae) period when Christ was ‘out of action’ between his crucifixion and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Victoria’s settings have already attracted some good performances – from Westminster Cathedral Choir (Hyperion), The Tallis Scholars (Gimell), The Sixteen (Virgin), etc – but this recording is the most nuanced and telling available.
First there is the sheer sound of the ensemble: beautifully balanced and tuned with, at times (Caligaverunt oculi), an almost glassy perfection. Next there is an exceptional awareness of the different narrative voices behind the texts. In Amicus meus Christ himself speaks of his betrayal, beginning quietly but rising to anguish as he describes Judas hanging himself. In Tenebrae factae sunt there is third-person description of Christ’s death; so reflective sympathy rather than personal despair underpins the performance of the reported words ‘My God why hast thou forsaken me?’. Finally there is the seamless, architectural line: no piece lurches awkwardly or peters out.
I do have some criticisms of a churlish kind – in Astiterunt reges the kings of the earth are made to stand up with such a clamour that they must have all knocked their chairs over – but take no notice. This really is excellent.