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Hyperion Records

CDA67694 - Morales: Magnificat, Motets & Lamentations
Virgin Annunciate (1450/5) by Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) (c1387-1455)
Detroit Institute of Arts, USA, Bequest of Eleanor Clay Ford / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDA67694
Recording details: September 2007
Merton College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Summerly
Engineered by Justin Lowe
Release date: September 2008
Total duration: 72 minutes 13 seconds

GRAMOPHONE CRITICS' CHOICE

'This is the Brabant Ensemble at their most vigorous and confident … in a fast-growing discography, this is a valuable addition' (Gramophone)

'Rice and his ensemble reveal a composer of warmth and passion who could also write resplendently joyful music when required … the whole recital is marked by an extraordinary unanimity of ensemble, security of intonation and intelligence that surpass all rivals in the repertory. In short, this is a valuable and exquisitely sung addition to the Morales discography' (International Record Review)

'Music of astonishing beauty and rapt polyphonic intensity, which the voices of the Brabant Ensemble unfold with perfect poise' (The Guardian)

'The Magnficat setting glows with power, and the three Lamentations have a grave beauty impossible to resist with the radiant tone and golden blend of Stephen Rice's Brabant Ensemble. The wise selection focuses on material underexposed elsewhere' (The Times)

'The young Oxford choir turns its immaculate ensemble, lucid diction and faultless tuning to the Spanish composer Morales. His Lamentations flow with exquisite sadness … the lines blend like threads in a tapestry … the selection of motets is rich with dynamic contrast, expressivity and downright beautiful singing' (Classic FM Magazine)

'This first-rate recording makes an important contribution not only for its exceptional performances, but in its thoughtful programming … essential' (ClassicsToday.com)

Magnificat, Motets & Lamentations

Morales was the first Spanish composer to achieve true international fame, and was described by contemporaries as ‘the light of Spain in music’. Although he is relatively well-represented in recordings, a few pieces have attracted the attention of performers at the expense of the majority of his output. This recording aims to begin filling that gap by presenting works which are so far underexposed, yet which are of extremely high quality.

The longest work on this disc is the Magnificat primi toni. In 1542 Morales wrote a set of eight Magnificats (one in each of the ‘tones’—‘keys’, in modern terms). The prevailing liturgy of the day, however, required the canticle to be sung alternatim, with alternate verses sung to plainchant; to adhere to this, and perhaps to double his earnings, Morales split his compositions in half for publication—apparently two Magnificats per ‘tone’, each with half the verses only set to music. And so it has remained to this day. This is the first recording of any of Morales’s Magnificats to present the entire work as the composer originally intended.

The Brabant Ensemble and Stephen Rice are rapidly confirming themselves as major contenders in the field of Renaissance polyphony. Their performances and recordings are praised both for the integrity of their scholarship and also for their unique vocal balance. This is the group’s fourth recording for Hyperion, and one which we expect to be as favourably received as have been their discs of Crecquillon, Manchicourt and Gombert.


Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Writing in 1555, the Spanish theorist Juan Bermudo thus picked out the three leading musicians of his generation, born at or just before the turn of the sixteenth century. All three were known throughout Europe: the two Flemings, Adrian Willaert and Nicolas Gombert, were active at the basilica of St Mark in Venice and the court of Emperor Charles V respectively; Morales had spent a decade as a tenor singer in the Sistine Chapel choir before returning to his native Spain in 1545. In the remaining eight years of his life he had been chapel master at the primatial cathedral of Toledo, attached to the court of the Duke of Arcos, and finally maestro at the cathedral of Málaga. He was the first Spanish composer to achieve true international fame, and was described by Bermudo as the ‘light of Spain in music’.

Partly as a result of the celebrity derived during his Roman sojourn, Morales has in modern times been the most widely acknowledged and performed composer of the mid-sixteenth century. His style would appear to have been influential on the youthful Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina; although Palestrina’s tenure as a singer in the Sistine Chapel began only after Morales’s death, the latter’s music was certainly in the repertoire of the Cappella Giulia (the choir of St Peter’s Basilica, which unlike the Sistine Chapel choir was largely staffed by native Italians and of which Palestrina was magister cantorum between 1551 and 1555). The dissemination of Morales’s music was extremely wide by the standards of his generation, his motets appearing in over thirty prints from 1535 to around 1570, as well as many manuscript collections.

Morales’s output runs to over 220 works, of which all but a handful are sacred. Like most of his contemporaries, the motet is the dominant genre; twenty-three Masses are securely attributed to him, as compared with approximately 150 motets. Although Morales is relatively well represented in recordings, a few pieces have attracted the attention of performers at the expense of the majority of his output. This recording aims to begin filling that gap by presenting works which are so far underexposed, yet which are of high quality.

The longest piece on the disc is the Magnificat primi toni, one of a set of eight covering the eight tones which Morales published in 1542. The Sistine Chapel choir, for whom they were presumably written, sang all twelve verses (including the ‘Gloria Patri’) of the canticle polyphonically, unlike the vast majority of cathedral and court establishments whose practice was to alternate plainsong and polyphonic verses. Indeed, Morales’s set of eight settings was later published in the more common format, with the odd and even verses separated. This, too, is the form in which the pieces are transmitted in the modern complete edition. Whilst it is by no means incorrect to perform these settings in alternatim form, as no doubt they would have been sung at many institutions, the overall musical sense is more coherent when they are heard complete: this is the first such recording of any of the settings. Despite the lack of plainsong verses, the chant melody is never absent from Morales’s Magnificats, being used in various ways in different verses. Most frequently it is heard as a lightly embellished cantus firmus, often in the tenor but elsewhere as well; at other times the melodic material is employed in imitation. The texture is for the most part four-voice, reducing to three upper voices for ‘Et misericordia’ (‘And his mercy is upon them that fear him’) and three lower for ‘Deposuit potentes’ (‘He has put down the mighty’). After a vigorous triple-time ‘Gloria Patri’ the texture is expanded to six voices for the final verse, with one soprano and one alto taking the chant melody in canon at the lower fourth.

Polyphonic settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah enjoyed considerable popularity in the sixteenth century, with a publication by the printer Ottaviano Petrucci (Venice, 1506) gathering together most of the earliest known examples. By the 1530s, Morales was following in a well-established tradition in composing Lamentations: along with his Sistine Chapel colleague Costanzo Festa he produced large numbers of settings, though these were not published until 1564, eleven years after Morales’s death. It is not known whether these settings entered the Sistine Chapel repertory, since an earlier version, composed by Carpentras (Elzéar Genet) appears to have been sung until the 1580s, being eventually replaced by that composed by Palestrina. The significance of the texts lies in their liturgical use as lessons in Matins of the Triduum Sacrum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday): whereas lessons would normally be intoned on a simple recitation formula, these are supplied with more elaborate plainsong. These ‘lamentation tones’ are often reflected in the polyphonic settings, including those of Morales.

Another unusual feature of Lamentation settings is the retention of the Hebrew initial letters to each verse. The Lamentations formed an acrostic poem, and the practice of Renaissance composers was to introduce each section with an extended, melismatic setting of the Hebrew letter. Together with the refrain ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God’ which ends each setting, these elements produce a highly meditative musical atmosphere, as the harrowing texts of Jeremiah’s poem are transformed into polyphony that alternates simple homophony with great elaboration. The three sections presented here are the third lesson on Good Friday (Coph. Vocavi), and the first and second on Holy Saturday (Zai. Candidiores and Nun. Vigilavit respectively); these liturgical designations ceased to apply after the promulgation of the Tridentine service books later in the century, however.

Many of Morales’s motets employ a structural device such as cantus firmus, canon or ostinato. One such is the state motet Gaude et laetare, Ferrariensis civitas, performed in Ferrara Cathedral on Sunday 9 March 1539 to celebrate the award of a cardinal’s hat to Ippolito II d’Este, younger brother of the then Duke of Ferrara, Ercole II. Here the first alto part sings the same text throughout: ‘I shall magnify your name for ever’, which forms the last line of the main motet text. As is common for Morales, the ostinato is presented at two pitches a fifth apart, alternating between C and G in the original notation; it appears five times in the first half of the piece and six in the second, with a (perhaps inaudible) intensifying effect of reducing the number of bars’ rest between statements such that one ostinato takes sixteen bars in the first half and fifteen in the second.

A combination of paraphrase technique and canon is evident in the six-voice Regina caeli setting, one of five attributed to Morales (though one of these is most likely by Costanzo Festa). The melodic material is derived from the plainsong Marian antiphon for Eastertide, with a canon at the lower fourth between the second soprano and second alto parts. This antiphon was frequently considered appropriate for canonic treatment at this time: another example is the setting by Pierre de Manchicourt, also recorded by The Brabant Ensemble (on Hyperion CDA67604).

The four-part setting of Salve regina is associated with Morales’s Spanish rather than Roman years, due to its characteristically Spanish structure of alternation between chant and polyphonic phrases, as well as the chant melody employed. Since such alternatim settings are not provided with the plainchant verses in contemporary sources, it is necessary to supply them: the version used here (kindly provided by Bruno Turner) is that published by the theorist Luys de Villafranca in 1565, from Morales’s home city of Seville.

A third Marian motet, Sancta Maria, succurre miseris, forms one of four linked settings, one each by the three great Spanish composers (Francisco Guerrero and Tomás Luis de Victoria being the other two), based originally on an earlier setting by Philippe Verdelot. Not only did Morales draw heavily on Verdelot’s melodic material in this setting, but Guerrero’s is related to Morales’s, and Victoria’s to all three.

The five-voice Spem in alium, sharing its text with Tallis’s famous setting in forty parts, is a curiosity of the Morales canon. Stylistically it would seem closer to a Franco-Flemish than a Spanish idiom, with many false relations and a thicker texture than Morales was accustomed to write. It also contains some unusual dissonance, and its repetition scheme, with a varied reprise of the first part’s ending, is similarly striking. As well as Morales, it is attributed to Nicolas Gombert and the Italian Vincenzo Ruffo; the source evidence, however, points to Morales.

Beati omnes qui timent Dominum must be considered one of Morales’s most attractive works: its sunny disposition is in many ways rather distinct from his usually rather more serious style, creating a sound reminiscent of his distinguished Dutch contemporary Clemens non Papa. (Since the motet is attributed to Morales in a Toledo Cathedral manuscript dating from his tenure as maestro de capilla, his authorship must be secure, however.) The mostly imitative six-voice texture is punctuated with moments of near-homophony, for instance at ‘beatus es, et bene tibi erit’ in the first part, and especially the hoped-for ‘Peace upon Israel’, evoked by lengthened note values in the final minute of the piece.

Stephen Rice © 2008

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