Also included in 5-CD set: European Choral Music
, 1525-1751 (NI1758,
with Lassus, Palestrina and Victoria)
This recording was first released in 1997 and my colleague Johan van Veen reviewed
some considerable time ago.
I’m revisiting it now because two of the Christmas responsories from this album
were included on a recent recording of Christmas Music (NI7096 –
and made such a profound effect on me that I asked for a copy of the original
release for a second review. There’s no harm in reminding anyone who didn’t
obtain it before what a real discovery Esteves’ music is and what a strong case
the Christ Church choir make for it.
All too little is known about Esteves and there’s very little of his music on
record. There’s only one other recording devoted entirely to him, containing
the same 8-part Mass as on this Nimbus CD (Ambronay AMY006, with Miserere
and Stabat Mater
) and another recording of the 8-part Mass is coupled
with Domenico Scarlatti’s 10-part Stabat Mater
on Accent (ACC10069).
I downloaded the Ambronay recording on which the performers are the Ensemble
Européen William Byrd directed by Graham O’Reilly from
where it’s available in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless and comes with a pdf booklet.
For no logical or liturgical reason the Kyrie
from the rest of the Mass by the 8-part Lamentations
and Stabat Mater
I also listened to the Accent recording from Naxos Music Library. The Currende
Vocal Ensemble is conducted by Erik van Nevel and the Mass is not divided as
on Ambronay. There’s no booklet from NML or from their download partners classicsonline.com.
This performance comes with cello, violone and organ continuo but their presence
is never over-prominent. This is a distinguished ensemble and their recording
is worth having if you are looking for the Scarlatti Stabat Mater
you may already have a good recording of that work, such as the budget-price
Hyperion Helios made by Christ Church Cathedral choir under their earlier director,
Francis Grier (CDH55172, with Salve Regina
– CD, mp3 and lossless download
with pdf booklet from
In any case, it’s for the Christmas responsories that the Nimbus recording is
valuable, the only recording of music which outshines the Mass setting. Fine
as that is, it’s a touch routine by comparison with the responsories, which
seem to be bursting out of the conventions of church music. If van Nevel’s
team give the Mass a little more colour than Christ Church, it’s a close thing.
Both are slightly preferable to the Ambronay and I found the separation of the
tracks of the Mass on that album annoying, though again that’s a version well
worth considering if you want the other Esteves works. In fact, with only the
Mass in common it’s worth having as an adjunct to the Nimbus. If you go for
the Nimbus and enjoy Esteves’ music as much as I anticipate, you may wish to
follow up with the Ambronay. The 24-bit download is rather pricey at $19.88
but the mp3 and 16-bit are more reasonable at $13.25: the CD equivalent sells
for around £13. The booklet in all formats contains texts and translations.
Though it’s a live recording, the audience are hardly noticeable until the brief
applause at the end.
Good as the 24-bit recording of the Ambronay is, it doesn’t put the Nimbus recording
in the shade. At the time Nimbus were using Dorchester Abbey for their Christ
Church recordings on the basis of its less resonant acoustic. The sound is admirably
clear. Indeed, some may wish for a little more resonance, though you won’t
find any more on the other recordings. Merton College chapel now suits Nimbus’s
Christ Church recordings better in that respect.
There was a second reason for asking for a new copy. When Johan van Veen reviewed
it, he pointed out some confusion in the booklet regarding the text and translation
of one of the responsories. We printed a postscript to the effect that Nimbus
intended to revise the booklet but that has not happened as yet if the booklet
I received is anything to go by.
Track 13 should read Beata viscera Mariæ Virginis
– blessed is the womb
of the Virgin Mary – and the translation should continue: ‘which bore the Son
of the eternal Father, and blessed are the breasts which gave milk to Christ
the Lord. Today He has deigned to be born of a virgin for the salvation of
the world. The day of salvation has shone upon us; come, you nations, come
and worship the Lord’.
If you bought the Christ Church Christmas recording and want to explore Esteves
further, any one of the three recordings that I have mentioned would serve your
purpose very well, but I suggest starting with the Nimbus. Sample from Naxos
Music Library if you’re not sure.
Previous review: Johan van Veen