Victoria: Sacred Choral Works

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VICTORIA Sacred Choral Works

  • O quam gloriosum
  • Missa O quam gloriosum
  • Missa Ave maris stella

This has already become one of my most cherished records. Though it may never quite attain the legendary status of the choir's 1959 recording of the Responsories for Tenebrae under George Malcom (Argo ZRG5149, 5/60—nla), it does bear many of the hallmarks of this distinguished predecessor, with its spacious depth of sound, volatile unpredictability of interpretation, and above all the soaring sostenuto of the boy trebles, with their forward and slightly nasal tone quality. How different this all is from the cool, restrained world of the Anglican cathedral choir, epitomized by King's College, Cambridge (Argo). And how easy it is to make a direct comparison now that we have recordings of the Missa O quam gloriosum by both choirs, made within a year of one another.
Splendid as the King's performance is in so many respects, it does have its drawbacks. The trebles in particular proceed from note to note in a way that seems laboured when placed beside the magnificently controlled legato lines of the Westminster boys, who treat Victoria's music as though it were some vast plainchant melody. With King's there is a quality of introspection (and to my mind dutiful routine) in the enunciation of the Mass texts; with Westminster, a passion that excites and uplifts. Both choirs are recorded in exceptionally resonant buildings, but King's intimately and a shade too closely, Westminster at a distance and with far greater atmosphere.
For me, however, the real triumph of Westminster Cathedral Choir's record is to be found on its second side. Ave maris stella is not one of Victoria's familiar Masses, quite simply because no music publisher has made it available to choirs in a good, cheap edition. To have it rescued from obscurity is laudable in itself, but to have it sung with such poise and sensitivity is an unexpected double treat. Unlike O quam gloriosum, this is a work that thrills with echoes of Victoria's Spanish upbringing, of Morales and his predecessors, even of Josquin Desprez, whose own Ave maris stella Mass was brought to the cathedrals of the Iberian peninsula earlier in the century. The plainchant melody, familiar to all of us through Monteverdi's setting in the 1610 Vespers, completely dominates Victoria's music, for it is placed most often in huge treble lines that wheel high above the general texture. Magnificent as the early parts of the work are, nothing quite matches the final five-part Agnus Dei, sung here with admirable support and breadth and exquisitely shaped by David Hill. This is one of the best choral records of its kind currently available. I can recommend it without reservation.'

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