LOBO Missa Vox Clamantis
As austerely beautiful as the cathedrals that it filled, the music of the Spanish Renaissance stands apart from its Italian and French counterparts. It’s a sound world of pointed arches and thrusting verticals that has little interest in anything as insipid as loveliness. This recording by Christopher Gray and the Truro Cathedral Choir celebrates this distinctive style, bringing together a handful of Iberian Golden Age composers for a programme built around two comparatively little-known Mass settings.
Based on an unknown motet, Duarte Lobo’s Missa Vox clamantis is darkly modal, its skilful counterpoint woven so tightly that scarcely a flicker of light breaks into its intricate flow. The head motif, with its upwards octave leap, gives much of the music an athletic quality which, together with Gray’s energised, forward-driving phrasing and the forthright delivery of Truro’s fine choristers, makes for an exciting performance. It’s such a different texture to the cool legatos and transparent solo verse sections of The Tallis Scholars’ classic recording that comparisons are perhaps unhelpful. But what we do get from the earlier performance is a fuller base to the sound, a firmer sense of harmonic anchor than the Truro lay clerks provide here.
Compared to the severity of the Lobo, Victoria’s Missa Simile est regnum is positively sunny and Gray’s singers unbend into attractive warmth. If the phrasing from the trebles is occasionally a little choppy, then the pay-off is polyphony that never loses momentum, pushing right through to the sudden, welcome stillness of the solo Benedictus. Is it an improvement on Stephen Darlington and the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford? On balance I think it is, pushed over the line by the clarity and depth of the recording quality and the more sympathetic acoustic of Truro’s Cathedral.