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Hyperion Records

CDH55276 - Morales: Missa Queramus cum pastoribus & other sacred music
The Holy Family (c1600) by Doménikos Theotokópoulos (El Greco) (1541-1614)
CDH55276
(Originally issued on CDA66635)

Recording details: November 1992
Westminster Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: June 2008
Total duration: 64 minutes 10 seconds

'A very worthwhile introduction to some marvellous music by Morales' (Early Music Review)

'The choral sound is sumptuous … James O’Donnell gives us a reading that sounds engaged and expressive while maintaining good choral discipline' (American Record Guide)

'This distinguished composer is now suitably represented on disc. Highly recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

'EI coro de la Catedral de Westminster está excelente … el disco es recomendable; muy bello' (CD Compact, Spain)

Missa Queramus cum pastoribus & other sacred music
Kyrie  [4'58] GreekEnglish
Gloria  [6'27] LatinEnglish
Credo  [11'09] LatinEnglish
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Born in Seville around 1500, Cristóbal de Morales spent the greater part of his life in the service of Spanish cathedrals, up to his death in 1553. Those are the biographical facts. Judged by the sound of his music, however, Morales is far less easy to identify as a Spaniard than is his most famous sixteenth-century compatriot, Tomás Luis de Victoria. A long period spent abroad may have modified the accent of Morales’s musical voice; between 1535 and 1545 he worked largely in Rome as a singer in the papal choir. But even his earliest compositions, written in Avila and Plasencia, and his late works, dating from the years in Toledo and Málaga, have a cosmopolitan quality about them. If the music of Victoria sounds to us quintessentially Spanish by virtue of its intensity and pathos, then Morales appears instead a master craftsman whose works transcend nationality, and whose musical interests, like his reputation, extended far beyond his native land.

It would be hard to find a more telling example of Morales’s internationalism, and of his essential character, than the Mass he based on Queramus cum pastoribus, a Christmastide motet by the French composer Jean Mouton (before 1459–1522). Few sixteenth-century motets were more popular than this one. We know that the papal choir sang it, and it was presumably for them that Morales subsequently worked his act of musical alchemy upon it. He could not have chosen a more delightful model. Its text, a series of dialogues, is set to terse polyphony in which Mouton brilliantly strikes a compromise between tight unity and rich variety. Most winning of all is the use of a refrain, ‘Noe, noe’, sung twice in each half of the motet, always set to the same memorable little tune.

Mouton’s motet is scored for four-part choir. Morales’s Missa Queramus cum pastoribus, in contrast, is in five parts, with divided basses—an unusual choice, and one that allows him to explore tawny sonorities and thickly woven textures that are absent from Mouton’s airy motet. This enlargement of resources is only part of Morales’s general strategy in which the originally concise Queramus cum pastoribus is transformed into huge expanses of rich and sumptuous music. Almost every moment of the Mass is based in some way upon Mouton’s motet, but rarely is the relationship one of straightforward quotation.

The opening of the Kyrie is characteristic. While the altos and sopranos sing the start of Mouton’s motet, now re-texted with the words ‘Kyrie eleison’, the basses accompany them with a new counter-melody. But is it new? No; it comes from the heart of the original motet. Mouton had originally used it as an inconspicuous junction between the third of his ‘Noe, noe’ refrains and the words ‘Cibus et lac virgineum’. Morales finds an unexpected use for it, sounded simultaneously with one of the motet’s main themes. The first of many such unexpected juxtapositions, it is also the key that unlocks the secret of the music’s success. So ingenious, so obscure are Morales’s metamorphoses that the casual listener easily misses them. A second hearing, and a third and fourth, gradually reveal more. It is music that always has new riches to release.

The Kyrie is conventionally tripartite (Kyrie I—Christe—Kyrie II) and has the simplest ground-plan: each of the three petitions starts by quoting different music from Queramus cum pastoribus, then turns into a variation on the ‘Noe, noe’ refrain, which signals the approach of a major cadence. Initially the Gloria treads the same ground, quoting directly from the Kyrie and again using the ‘Noe, noe’ refrain to bring the music to a halt, at the words ‘Filius Patris’. But now the function of the refrain starts to change. In the second half of the Gloria (‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’) the ‘Noe, noe’ tune is quickly absorbed into the music’s flow, then abandoned; Morales begins work instead on a new, more intricate form of collage in which the motet’s most memorable moment no longer serves as a goal. This sets the tone for the Credo.

A monumental structure that owes little to the tight organization of the Kyrie and Gloria, the Credo breaks down Mouton’s motet into its smallest components and reassembles them with kaleidoscopic unpredictability, always in the best service of the words. At ‘Et ascendit’, for four rather than five voices, Morales plays a new game: he quotes the start of Mouton’s second part (‘Ubi pascas, ubi cubes?’) as a motto theme, sung over and over again by the sopranos, each time with a new accompaniment. The ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctum’, back in five parts, begins with a development of the opening of the Kyrie, but quickly breaks free of its influence and is soon exploring new ground.

The Sanctus is a movement of contrasts. Its opening has a breadth previously unheard in the Mass; its Hosannas break into joyful triple metre; its Benedictus is a spare, ecstatic trio in which the basses are silenced for the first time. By comparison the Agnus Dei is concerned with summation. There are three petitions. The first closely resembles the petitions of the Kyrie, with its use of Mouton’s refrain as an end-stop, but with the addition of a new twist: while the lower voices sing the music of ‘Noe, noe’, the sopranos rise in spiralling sequence, a melodic style that sixteenth-century composers normally shunned. The second petition is for four voices and calls to mind the ‘Et ascendit’ of the Credo: its foundation too is an ostinato, heard this time in the tenor register. The final petition expands into six parts, with sopranos divided for added radiance. Again there are reminiscences of the Kyrie, but new possibilities are opened up by the six-part texture, and the closing measures of Morales’s Mass achieve transcendence no less than recapitulation.

Morales’s motets need only brief introduction. His preferred scoring is for five voices. Of the pieces performed here, only Sancta Maria, succurre miseris is for four-part choir. O sacrum convivium, a Communion motet, probably dates from Morales’s Roman period. Another of Rome’s most distinguished composers evidently admired its unusually spacious polyphony: it served as the model for Palestrina’s Missa O sacrum convivium. The five-part setting of Andreas Christi famulus (there is another for eight voices) survives only in Spanish sources. Like the ‘Sonata sopra Sancta Maria’ from Monteverdi’s Vespers, its foundation is an ostinato borrowed from the Litany of the Saints: ‘Sancte Andrea, ora pro nobis’. Few of Morales’s motets have narrative texts, but Clamabat autem mulier Chananea is an exception, and the setting pays close attention to dialogue and dramatic action. Sancta Maria, succurre miseris sets a Marian text popular among composers of Morales’s generation, and is known to have been composed before 1543. Regina caeli is probably a later work. Unusually compact, it nevertheless follows convention by quoting extensively from the plainchant melody for this well-known Marian antiphon, above all by the sopranos and altos, who sing it in canon at the lower fifth, exquisitely ornamented.

John Milsom © 1993

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