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 Recording of the Week  Santiago a cappella

Back in the year 2000 the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists and Sir John Eliot Gardiner made their celebrated year-long Bach pilgrimage, during which time they performed all one hundred and ninety-eight of J.S. Bach's sacred cantatas in more than sixty churches throughout Europe to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. They clearly enjoyed their pilgrimage idea as four years later they were at it again - albeit on a much smaller scale - when they spent a month travelling through France and Spain following the centuries-old route to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela where the remains of St James are said to reside. They performed numerous concerts along the way and made a recording which although previously issued by Universal Spain is re-released today on Sir John Eliot Gardiner's own label SDG.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

It is a lovely disc which takes you on a real journey through medieval and renaissance Spain. The oldest piece is the Mariam matrem virginem from the 14th century Llibre Vermell de Montserrat – one of the earliest surviving manuscripts from a time when music was generally transmitted orally. It is lovely work – the choir sound is beautifully blended and soloist Elin Manahan-Thomas sings with an exquisite pure tone.

The rest of the repertoire is slightly later (16th and 17th century), with all the great Spanish composers of that time well represented. The Guerrero and Victoria pieces are stunning, while Alonso Lobo’s 20-minute setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah with its lovely long arching phrases forms the centrepiece.

The recordings were made in a church in London (St Alban the Martyr, Holborn) where the acoustic is atmospheric and with just the right amount of reverberation. This really is Renaissance polyphony at its best and comes thoroughly recommended. It should please those already familiar with this repertoire as well as serve as an excellent introduction for those new to it. I’ve given you the whole of 14th century piece mentioned above to try and get you hooked!

Santiago a cappella

Monteverdi Choir, John Eliot Gardiner

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC