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Cristóbal de Morales - Magnificat, Motets & Lamentations
Morales was the first Spanish composer to achieve true international fame, and was described by contemporaries as ‘the light of Spain in music’. Although he is relatively well-represented in recordings, a few pieces have attracted the attention of performers at the expense of the majority of his output. This recording aims to begin filling that gap by presenting works which are so far underexposed, yet which are of extremely high quality.
The longest work on this disc is the Magnificat primi toni. In 1542 Morales wrote a set of eight Magnificats (one in each of the ‘tones’—‘keys’, in modern terms). The prevailing liturgy of the day, however, required the canticle to be sung alternatim, with alternate verses sung to plainchant; to adhere to this, and perhaps to double his earnings, Morales split his compositions in half for publication—apparently two Magnificats per ‘tone’, each with half the verses only set to music. And so it has remained to this day. This is the first recording of any of Morales’s Magnificats to present the entire work as the composer originally intended.
The Brabant Ensemble and Stephen Rice are rapidly confirming themselves as major contenders in the field of Renaissance polyphony. Their performances and recordings are praised both for the integrity of their scholarship and also for their unique vocal balance. This is the group’s fourth recording for Hyperion, and one which we expect to be as favourably received as have been their discs of Crecquillon, Manchicourt and Gombert.
“…the Brabant Ensemble… turn in very solid readings, subdued or serene, as text and music demand. In the Magnificat, the intensity steps up a notch, reaching an impressive climax. …the ensemble quality here belies the fact that only four voices are involved (except at the very end) this is the Brabant Ensemble at their most vigorous and confident.” Gramophone Magazine, November 2008
“Music of astonishing beauty and rapt polyphonic intensity, which the voices of The Brabant Ensemble unfold with perfect poise” The Guardian
“The young Oxford choir turns its immaculate ensemble, lucid diction and faultless tuning to the Spanish composer Morales. His Lamentations flow with exquisite sadness … the lines blend like threads in a tapestry … the selection of motets is rich with dynamic contrast, expressivity and downright beautiful
singing” Classic FM Magazine
“This recording suggests how central is Morales's position within the High Repertoire.
Often spoken of as a precursor of Palestrina, here (as in the Lamentations settings that open the programme) he seems just as clearly to prefigure Lassus's own penitential mode (especially at 'Nun: Vigilavit'). Stephen Rice leaves aside the Mass repertory in favour of the motet. Following the Lamentations set, this selection is mostly of Marian pieces. The single exception is an impressive celebratory piece commemorating the elevation of Ippolito d'Este, brother of the Duke of Ferrara, to the cardinalate. Unlike some of the Marian motets this has not been recorded before, and it shows off a more public side of the composer.
The motets range in scoring from four to six voices, but whatever the number of voices, the counterpoint is always perfectly intelligible.
Obviously that's due to the clarity of the composer's textures, but it also reflects well on the Brabant Ensemble, who turn in very solid readings, subdued or serene, as text and music demand. In the Magnificat, the intensity steps up a notch, reaching an impressive climax.
Indeed, the ensemble quality here belies the fact that only four voices are involved (except at the very end); this is the Brabant Ensemble at their most vigorous and confident. For this reading, Rice opts for the polyphonic setting of all the verses, rather than alternate half of them with plainchant, a common practice of the time. In a fast-growing discography, this is a valuable addition.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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Music from the Time of Emperor Charles V
During the first half of the sixteenth century, there was no greater a ruler than the Emperor Charles V, whose court was lavishly supplied with music by composers of high talent. Charles had a personal enthusiasm for music, and his chapel was more or less in constant attendance on his travels. It is small wonder, then, that a number of the greatest composers of the age had some connection with him, including the Franco-Flemish composers Manchicourt, Cristóbal de Morales and Nicolas Gombert. Complementing these composers are the perhaps less well-known Guerrero and Jacobus Clemens non Papa. As members of the chapel choir of Charles V, most of these composers travelled the Empire widely, and were praised as among the outstanding masters of their time. Only Francisco Guerrero worked exclusively in Spain. To us the least well known of the Spanish composers of the period, and consequently the most underrated, he was the most admired Spanish musician of the second half of the sixteenth century, known for his Latin liturgical works. Manchicourt composed some of the most glorious music of the time, this CD including the well-known early motet O Virgo virginum along with the premiere recording of the Agnus Dei from the Missa Reges terrae. De Morales is widely recognised as the most important figure in early sixteenth-century Spanish music, garnering frequent praise from his contemporaries and ranking with Palestrina in his mastery of polyphony. Nordic Voices here present two of his sumptuous and richly varied motets.
“Nordic Voices' mixed six-voice configuration (two sopranos, one each of mezzo, tenor, baritone and bass) is beautifully suited to the music in this programme, and their clear, radiant performances, full of character, are vividly captured by the DSD recording on this hybrid disc. The ensemble sound is intimate and close yet individual voices exhibit an airiness and spaciousness.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2007 ****
“Intonation? Impeccable. Ensemble? Unfailing precision in phrasing, dynamics, color – everything finely tuned a
succession of works ever-changing in style and expressive meaning.” Washington Post
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