Thursday, 12 March 2015

Flight of Angels

Flight of Angels - The Sixteen
Flight of Angels - music by Guerrero and Lobo; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; CORO
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 3 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Music from the Spanish Golden Age in the Sixteen's inimitable manner

The Sixteen's Choral Pilgrimage this year is called Flight of Angels, and for it the choir will be taking  programme of 16th century Spanish sacred music on tour. This new disc Flight of Angels on their own Coro label is their recording of the music to be taken on tour and in it the choir presents music by Francisco Guerrero and Alonso Lobo, both working in Seville and the best known composers from the Spanish Golden Age. Guerrero's Duo Seraphim a 12, Laudate Dominum a 8, Maria Magdalene and Vexilla Regis are performed with movements from is Missa Surge propera, Missa de la batailla escoutez and Missa Congratulamini mihi, plus Lobo's Libera me, Ave Regina caelorum, Ave Maria a 8, Versa est in luctum and a movement from is Missa Maria Magdalene.

The music is firmly based in Seville and anyone listening to the music ought to be looking at images of the Cathedral and other surviving architecture from the period. Freed from the Moors in the 13th century the city's cathedral was built on the site of the mosque and was the grandest cathedral in Christendom. A busy port, Seville reflected the richness of the mix of cultures with superbly grand architecture including the Alcazar, the royal palace which was originally a Moorish fort.

The music reflects this richness, with both Lobo and Guerroro writing music which has a highly developed sense of its texture and enjoys exploring the sound world created. The stately vocal lines and steadily intertwining polyphony is not the most complex music ever created, instead it luxuriates somewhat in the very richness of the textures. Recorded at St. Augustine's Church, Kilburn the 18 singers create a sound which resonates and clearly fills the space.

Francisco Guerrero (1528 - 1599) was born in Seville and a chorister at the cathedral. He had a lifelong association with the cathedral and was maestro de capilla for 30 years. The most distinguished musician in Spain, his life was rather more varied than it might at first sound. A pupil of the great Cristobal de Morales, Guerrero was one of the few major composers to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In the process he was twice captured by pirates, but lived to write a book about it and to plan another journey, but he died before he could travel. Alonso Lobo (1555 - 1617) was born in a town North of Seville and was Guerrero's assistant in Seville in 1591, moving to Toledo (another rich and historic cathedral) to become maestro de capilla before moving back to Seville to take the same post at the cathedral there.

The disc opens with Guerrero's only 12-voice work Duo Seraphim which uses three choirs to weave its magic. This is followed by the Kyrie from Lobo's Missa Maria Magdalene which is a parody mass based on Guerroro's six-voiced motet Maria Magdalene (also on the disc). Throughout the disc there are a sequence of mass movements, but not from the same mass so that we get a feeling for the writing by both Guerroro and his pupil Lobo. Guerrero's Missa  surge propera is his only six voice mass (all the other surviving ones are for four or five voices), and his mass Missa de la batailla escoutez is actually based on a well-known popular song, Clement Jannequin's La Guerre. The disc concludes with the two Agnus Dei settings from Guerrero's Missa Congratulamini mihi based on a five-voiced motet by Thomas Crecquillon who was a member of the chapel of Emperor Charles V (Philip II's father).

The Guerrero motets include the lovely double choir motet Laudate Dominum (on of his few works for double choir). The music survives in a variety of sources (luckily for us), but not all have texts and for Libera me, Bruno Turner has had to do the reconstruction which includes the interleaving plainchant.

Lobo's most famous motet  Versa est in luctum which was written for the funeral obsequies of Philip II of Spain. It remains a simple, yet profoundly moving work. Motets like Lobo's Ave Regina caelorum show clearly his indebtedness to Guerrero. For both composers, richness of texture did not necessarily imply a thickness of part writing, and Lobo's Ave Maria is the only motet for eight voices in his 1602 published volume of Marian motets.

Under the fluent direction of Harry Christophers, the choir sings with its customary poise and beauty of tone. They perform all the music unaccompanied, a perfectly valid choice though in 16th century Spain instruments were often used as well. Wisely, Christophers does not attempt anything archeological and instead we are treated to a superb sequence of performances. Rich lines are given with firmness and shapely clarity, the choir makes a goodly noise and the four-voice pieces benefit from the solidity which comes from having four voices per part (six sopranos). But the there is a wonderful flexibility too and a nicely focussed sound.

You might want to try some of this music performed by an all male group with boys singing with vibrant continental tone, or for a reconstruction which uses instruments. But for a disc which opens up the glories of the Spanish Golden Age, you can't do better and I predict a great success for the choir during their pilgrimage.

Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) - Duo Seraphim a12
Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) - Kyrie (from Missa Maria Magdalene)
Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) - Libera me
Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) - Gloria (from Missa Surge propera)
Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) - Laudate Dominum a8
Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) - Maria Magdalene
Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) - Credo (from Missa de la batalla escoutez)
Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) - Vexilla Regis
Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) - Ave Regina caelorum
Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) - Ave Maria a8
Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) - Versa est in luctum
Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) - Agnus Dei I & II (from Missa Congratulamini mihi)
The Sixteen
Harry Christophers (conductor)
Recorded at St Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London, 17-20 November 2015
CORO16128 1 CD [63.52]


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