There isn’t too much of Vivanco’s music on record. An album containing his Mass In manus tuas on Glossa opens with an instrumental arrangement and also relies heavily on instrumental accompaniment to the singing. The only other current recording of the main work on the new Hyperion, the Mass based on Vivanco’s motet for the Transfiguration (August 6th) comes from Ensemble Musica Reservata de Barcelona directed by Bruno Turner. Turner, the doyen of experts on Iberian music of this period, also curated the Hyperion and wrote the excellent notes.
Those notes refer to the complexity of Vivanco’s canonic writing but the uninitiated need have no fear: if anything, the surface appearance of the music seems placid and uncomplicated, less florid than the music of Victoria. Victoria was tutored, like Vivanco, by Bernardino de Ribera, whose music De Profundis have already recorded for Hyperion, directed by David Skinner. Johan van Veen thought that a little too straightforward, but I suspect that’s as much a comment on Ribera’s music—and Vivanco’s—as on the performances. Unlike some recordings of the music of this period, such as the Glossa mentioned above, the Ribera is sung a cappella and the only instrumental underpinning on the new release comes from very sparing use of the bajón, an early forerunner of the bassoon.
If pressed to choose between this recording and one of my Victoria recordings, I have no doubt that I would abandon the Vivanco, but fortunately that’s not a choice that I have to make. Outright genius, such as Victoria possessed—even greater than that of Palestrina, I often think—should never be allowed to banish the very good.
An important factor in the lack of surface tension in this new recording must be attributed to the superb professionalism of the singing. Whereas an accomplished cathedral choir can make a very good fist of the Iberian music of this period, the sheer complexity of the composition sometimes requires something even better. An earlier Hyperion release containing Vivanco’s Magnificat octavi toni from Westminster Cathedral Choir, directed by David Hill, makes the music sound more complex than is the case from De Profundis. That’s partly as a result of having to keep a large choir together but that, of course, would have been equally true for Vivanco himself as a choirmaster.
The same is true of another Westminster recording for Hyperion, this time directed by James O’Donnell, including Vivanco’s Versa est in luctum. That funeral motet is also included on the new release, so the two performances can be compared. Having mislaid my copy of the CD—a particular problem with collections, which also affects downloads and how to file them—I downloaded the recording from hyperion-records.co.uk, with pdf booklet, where it’s currently available for just £5 on CD or download.
The new recording is a little slower, increasing my impression throughout that Hollingworth likes to give the music room to breathe. De Profundis also offer a very polished performance, though that doesn’t mean that they skate over the surface of this music of lament. I don’t want to give the impression that it’s the equivalent of the super-perfect grooming of the Berlin Phil under Karajan which some find so off-putting, but I wonder if the Westminster choristers don’t get closer to the sound that the composer would have heard, though sounding more accurate than some the Spanish choirs even today. Certainly, the use of boys’ voices on the top line gives a more plangent effect whereas the top line of De Profundis is less prominent throughout.
Let me not be thought to under-rate the new album, however, to which I warmed more and more on repeated hearing. The performance of the main work is at least the equal of the earlier recording, with which, not surprisingly, it shares many features. If Hollingworth tends to slowish tempi, Turner is even slower, though in neither recording is this to the detriment of the music. If you are looking for excitement and drama look elsewhere; if you want solace and serenity, either of these recordings of the Mass will do very well.
Vivanco’s O sacrum convivium, used on Hyperion as the Communion motet, also appears on a Delphian recording of music from the Iberian Golden Age. I’ve suggested that De Profundis tend to adopt slowish tempi, appropriate to the music, but here, as with Bruno Turner’s recording of the Mass, the Marian Singers on Delphian give the music almost half a minute longer to breathe.
They are also slower in the Magnificat primi toni, but in both works I find it very difficult to choose between such fine performances. John Quinn thought that a slightly larger group than the Marian Singers might produce a richer tone. I think he might prefer De Profundis on that score, but overall it’s very hard to call.
In Vivanco's veni dilecte me, on the other hand, De Profundis are noticeably slower than Stile Antico on a superb collection of settings of the Song of Songs. I seem to have mentioned that recording only in a passing reference to a Linn release; let me put that right here by recommending it, even in preference to the new Hyperion.
With plenty of variety—the Mass and music from the Song of Songs rubbing shoulders with music for the funeral of King Philip, the whole rounded off with a very fine setting of the Magnificat, sung alternatim like that on the earlier Hyperion CD—the new release is well worth having.
The recording, as heard in 24-bit sound, is very good: like the performances it’s quietly satisfying without drawing attention to itself. At £13.50 it’s only a little more expensive than the CD, typically around £12.50 but on offer as I write for £10.50 from one dealer. ‘Ordinary’ CD-quality 16-bit can be downloaded for £8.99.
This new recording is very welcome. Even though some of the music is available on other collections, the new performances more than hold their own and there is much new material.