VICTORIA Officium Defunctorum
Philippe Herreweghe’s conception of Victoria’s six-voice Requiem (the more famous of the two settings he composed) imparts a sense of concision to a work that is often treated more expansively. The alternating plainsong intonations in the Kyrie are omitted and the tempi, while sounding neither particularly brisk nor hurried, are not over-indulgent. The Collegium Vocale is more choir than vocal ensemble and its reading is close (in this sense at least) to those of a number of English a cappella groups. The work’s dramatic potential is not overtly exploited but rather suggested, such is the concentrated, cut-glass quality of the singing at its best. Understatement is a feature of Herreweghe’s conducting of Renaissance music with this choir, for better or (perhaps) not so well, but here the sense that less is more does the music no disservice – rather the reverse. The impression of a work revisiting itself in the concluding Libera me, as the words of the opening Requiem and Kyrie movements are briefly repeated to very similar but not identical music, is extraordinarily moving.
Fine as this account of the Requiem undoubtedly is, the series of accompanying motets contains some of the disc’s finest singing, and inspirations that match anything else that Victoria wrote. Herreweghe doesn’t confine himself to penitential subject matter but presents a few of what one takes to be his own favourites: the expansive Vadam et circuibo and the version of Salve regina heard here are very well known but the two short pieces for higher and lower voices respectively are marvels of concentrated expression.