Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International
October 2016

The music of ‘Bernardinus Ribera’ is—or was—contained in a beautifully bound and illustrated folio in Toledo Cathedral but some eighteenth-century vandal cut out so many pages and so many of the best illustrations on other pages as to make the music unperformable. What can be performed, however, with a little restoration, is contained on this recording: three of what would have been eight settings of the Magnificat, here performed with plainsong antiphons fore and aft, and ten motets.

A further source, the monastery of Guadalupe, offers another Magnificat, quartus tonus I [9:00] and that’s recorded on a separate very inexpensive download-only album, complete with the antiphon Est secretum Valeriane [0:40 + 9:00 + 0:43], CDA68141D.

What we have on these two releases makes it all the more reprehensible that some vandal has deprived us of the other Magnificats and the additional music known to have been included in the collection. In this case we know what we have lost, whereas there is no way of knowing what early Tudor masterpieces were lost in the Reformation. Without making exorbitant claims for Ribera as against the other fine Iberian music of the period on Hyperion recordings, I very much enjoyed the music and the performances.

I doubt if this music sounded anywhere near as good in Toledo Cathedral in the sixteenth century as we hear on this recording. De Profundis field a large ensemble here: seven each of altos and tenors, six baritones and five basses. The recording was made in a fairly resonant venue and although the engineers have done a fine job of keeping the strands separate, you need to follow the texts, thankfully included in the booklet, to hear the words, even in the plainsong sections. I don’t suppose that clarity of diction was a high priority at Toledo anyway, even after the Council of Trent so ordered.

Musicologist Bruno Turner has written the very informative notes and, though it isn’t stated, I presume that he and David Skinner have been responsible for making the music performable. Having been very picky about small points in Hyperion booklets recently, I’m delighted to say that this is first-rate—not that the small points which I’ve noticed in a couple of others have vitiated the usual high quality.