Marc Desmet
Classica, France
May 2010

A quick look at the extensive discography of the Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria is enough to prove the point: it is the United Kingdom which has provided most of the recent recordings of Spanish sacred music from the golden age. The Tallis Scholars have equally turned their attention to the works of Victoria during the course of their impressive career: firstly with the Requiem (1988), then with the Responses for Tenebrae (1990), and finally with these Lamentations which, more than twenty years later, attest to the marvellous sensibility of the group and to the durability of an inimitable vocal style.

From the first note one recognises what makes the Tallis Scholars unique: a flawless sound, perfect intonation, and above all an overall timbre which has a colour difficult to define: precise and expressive at the same time (‘Et egressus est a filia’ from the second Lamentation for Maundy Thursday is a memorable example). The economy of musical means which characterise Victoria’s Lamentations affects all the elements of the writing, including the final verse of each lament (‘Jerusalem convertere’) where Victoria maintains a constant sobriety at a moment when other composers often opt for a more perfumed language. This sobriety finds an echo in the sound-world with which the Tallis Scholars respond to him; and the plaintive way in which the Hebrew letters unfold with the suppleness of calligraphy suspended in mid-air is literally fascinating. None of the effects in the Tallis’s carefully judged aesthetic revel too much in abstract sound. But then one hears nothing too heavy or austerely dry in their interpretation either: on the contrary the listener is able to perceive the superb modal architecture of the cycle, in which Victoria’s changing vocal orchestrations wonderfully capture the essence of each lamentation.