You spend a lot of time with choirs—singing in them, conducting them, listening to them—and you gain a profound respect for what it takes to develop and project the kind of ensemble sound—'acoustic beauty’—as quoted in the liner notes, that we hear on the first track and throughout this wonderful program of 16th-century polyphony from El León de Oro, a 33-voice choir from Asturias, Spain. Then there’s the ‘polyphonic purity’, another of the choir’s goals in its 20-plus years, all along striving and searching for and experiencing the communal challenges and rewards unique to ensemble singing. Clearly this choir gets it, and has found it, the essence of choral singing, and is able to communicate its discoveries to its audience.
I had not heard this group prior to this recording, and I have to say that I was drawn to it by the presence of Peter Phillips, founder and director of the Tallis Scholars, who is this choir’s ‘Honorary Director’. El León de Oro is in every respect worthy of inclusion among the world’s finest interpreters of this repertoire—which here includes more familiar works by Gombert and Lassus (Media vita), Victoria (Magnificat primi toni), and Palestrina (Laudate pueri), along with such obscure gems as the astonishing work for double choir by Dominique Phinot that opens the program.
The recorded sound, from Iglesia de Santiago el Mayor, Sariego, Asturias, is a bit ‘roomy’, but you quickly get used to it, and it doesn’t dampen the effect of such performances as the lusciously rich, vibrant, exquisitely tuned ‘Cervicibus minabamur’, a movement from Phinot’s Lamentations sung by male voices that’s one of the disc’s many highlights. Without question, this program honors and achieves one of the tenets of all great performances: leave them wanting more.