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Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert

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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611)
Tenebrae Responsories
Tenebrae/Nigel Short
rec. St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, London, 28-29 December 2012
full track-list at end of review
SIGNUM SIGCD344 [72:01]

This beautifully realised release from Tenebrae goes a long way to confirming their position as the one of - if not the - finest chamber choirs at work in Britain today. It’s a fascinating piece of programming to have an entire disc of Victoria’s Tenebrae responsories. The effect, when you take them all in at one sitting, is in some ways rather exhausting, but in others profoundly spiritual, connecting the beauty and the tragedy of the Passion story in a mysterious link.
The two things that are key to the success of this disc are the superbly chosen and engineered acoustic and the rock-solid tightness of the vocal ensemble. The Holborn venue fits this music astonishingly well, with just the right length of reverberation so as to create a fittingly ecclesiastical atmosphere while allowing the sound to remain fairly close-up and intimate. The voices themselves seem near at hand rather than distant, and consequently the recital doesn’t feel like a concert, rather a shared devotion through music. The size of the choir fits this very well, too. Thirteen singers are listed in the booklet note, but frequently the impression is that far fewer are actually being used, and that is something that the engineers have taken into account when judging the acoustic - something they do extremely well.
The singing itself is marvellous throughout. When the sopranos sing alone the effect is bright, pearly and luminescent, as if hanging in mid-air at one remove from mortality. At the other end, the basses are rich without being heavy, forming the rock of the choir. Between these two poles the other voices move with purposeful direction, giving equal dedication to both music and text. That text, so important to the work’s sacred purpose, is consistently illuminated powerfully: listen, for example, to the energy with which they attack the line “cum gladiis et fustibus” [track 6, 1:04], describing the assailants coming at Christ “with swords and clubs”. This then seems to retreat and become less belligerent with each repetition. In fact, the darkest and most spiritual section of the disc comes, as well it should, during the Good Friday section at Tenebrae fact sunt, as the choir describes the darkness that falls during the crucifixion and Christ’s cry of “My God, why has thou forsaken me?” The rest all seems to fall away here as the listener is brought even closer to the intense heart of the music. The helpful booklet notes tell us that Victoria sets this passage for a deliberately lower and smaller set of voices.
The tightness of the ensemble is a thing to marvel at, and not once can you can’t put a cigarette paper between the voices, either in line or in tempo. Often the vocal line is uncomplicated, making a pious virtue of its simplicity. At times, however, it can be strikingly daring, such as in the snaking chromaticism of Caligaverunt oculi mei in track 12. This disc confirms Victoria as one of the most important and gifted musical voices of the European counter-reformation and is well worth exploring, though next time I think I’ll absorb it in smaller doses. Full Latin texts are provided with English translations.
Simon Thompson
Full Track-List  
1. Responsories for Maundy Thursday Nocturn II: Amicus meus osculi me tradidit signa [3.01]
2. Responsories for Maundy Thursday Nocturn II: Iudas mercator pessimus [2.24]
3. Responsories for Maundy Thursday Nocturn II: Unus ex discipulis meis tradet me hodie [4.07]
4. Responsories for Maundy Thursday Nocturn III: Eram quasi agnus innocens [3.31]
5. Responsories for Maundy Thursday Nocturn III: Una hora non potuistis vigilare mecum [3.05]
6. Responsories for Maundy Thursday Nocturn III: Seniores populi consilium fecerunt [5.43]
7. Responsories for Good Friday Nocturn II: Tamquam ad latronem existis [3.42]
8. Responsories for Good Friday Nocturn II: Tenebrae factae sunt [4.22]
9. Responsories for Good Friday Nocturn II: Animam meam dilectam [8.14]
10. Responsories for Good Friday Nocturn III: Tradiderunt me in manus impiorum [2.43]
11. Responsories for Good Friday Nocturn III: lesum tradidit impius summis [2.55]
12. Responsories for Good Friday Nocturn III: Caligaverunt oculi mei [6.32]
13. Responsories for Holy Saturday Nocturn II: Recessit pastor noster [3.31]
14. Responsories for Holy Saturday Nocturn II: O vos omnes [3.04]
15. Responsories for Holy Saturday Nocturn II: Ecce quomodo moritur iustus [5.29]
16. Responsories for Holy Saturday Nocturn III: Astiterunt reges terrae [2.10]
17. Responsories for Holy Saturday Nocturn III: Aestimatus sum cum descendentibus [2.44]
18. Responsories for Holy Saturday Nocturn III: Sepulto Domino [4.41]