It’s wonderful to hear more music from Francisco de Peñalosa (1470-1528), and particularly pleasing that it comes on this stylish release from New York Polyphony complete with superb booklet notes by Ivan Moody. Peñalosa’s life coincided with the beginning of the Spanish ‘Golden Age’ and he was a key figure in the generation before Cristóbal de Morales (1500 53). A useful elevator pitch would be ‘Flemish polyphony with a twist’.
The programme features two substantial settings of Lamentations unique to manuscripts from Tarazona Cathedral. Of these, the Lamentationes Jeremiae Feria VI (Holy Friday) are the more immediately striking – the letters in particular: ‘Beth’, sung here with slightly wet final consonants, then a sumptuous ‘Ghimel’ showcase the singers’ unhurried and impassioned tone to the full. The programme also includes Peñalosa’s Missa L’homme armé interlaced with a pair of his motets and two from Francisco Guerrero (1528 99). Comparing Peñalosa’s Sancta Maria, succurre miseris to the direct and imploring performance by Gothic Voices (Hyperion, 2/94) highlights New York Polyphony’s richer, imploring tone but also the warmly resonant space of Princeton Abbey, where they allow more space between phrases until the final triple-time section inspires a little flurry. The effect is stunning.
Two standout pieces are the Stabat mater by Pedro de Escobar (fl1507 14), a short but arresting setting of the first two verses. Rich and vibrant in texture, it again draws on this ensemble’s deep palette of vocal colours. The second is the Credo from Missa L’homme armé, which sits like a declamatory jewel in the middle of this disc. Previously known only by The Orlando Consort’s brighter, sparkling performance (Harmonia Mundi), it is here taken slightly slower and with more gravitas. However, with only six surviving cyclic Masses by Peñalosa, not all of which are yet represented on disc, my gripe is that this Missa L’homme armé is incomplete, lacking its five-voice Kyrie and the Sanctus/Benedictus. While not musically problematic, it is something of a shame not to have the opportunity to hear the whole thing, especially considering the quality and beauty of performance in the other movements.