Monday 9 March 2020

A different focus: Victoria's Requiem performed by children's voices and instrumental ensemble from Toulouse

 Victoria Requiem; La Maitrise de Toulouse, Les Sacqueboutiers, Mark Opstad; Regent Records
Victoria Requiem; La Maitrise de Toulouse, Les Sacqueboutiers, Mark Opstad; Regent Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 February 2020 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Children's voices and early instruments bring a different focus the ineffably grand version of Victoria's music for the funeral of his Royal patroness

The use of instruments with Renaissance choral music is something that is known about and written about, but not so frequently put into practice in modern performance, though Gareth Wilson and the choir of Girton College gave us Orlande de Lassus' Requiem with brass instruments on Toccata Classics [see my review]. 

In 17th century Spain, in particular, the combination of voices and instruments was something often used on festal and other special occasions. This new disc from La Maitrise de Toulouse and Les Sacqueboutiers, conductor Mark Opstad on Regent Records, takes its inspiration from contemporary descriptions such as that quoted in the CD booklet from 1666 when a French traveller, Jean Muret, witnessed a funeral for a monk in Madrid:

'They bury them to the sound of instruments and with musical concerts to which everyone is invited as if to a party ... All the people gathered there maintain their gravity whilst the musicians play on furious'

So on this disc we have Victoria's Requiem, alongside motets by Correa, Guerrero, Marques, Lobo, Romero and Patino, performed by the combined forces of the young singers and cornets, sackbuts, shawm and bassoon of Les Sacqueboutiers.

Victoria had been given permission to retire from Rome in 1585, and back in Madrid was given a position at the Convent of las Descalzas Reales as private chaplain to Empress Maria of Austria who lived there. Victoria carried out the functions of director of music at the convent, but does not seem to have had the official title. He wrote the Requiem for Empress Maria's funeral in 1603 and it was printed in 1605.

One of the intentions behind this recording was to do a project which combined the children's voices of La Maitrise de Toulouse with Les Sacqueboutiers. But there is a good historical basis for this reconstruction. We know that in the early 17th century, the convent of las Descalzas Reales in Madrid, where Victoria was based, had musicians attached to it. And documents such as the one by Jean Muret testify to the Spanish use of instruments in church.

In fact, on his recording of Victoria's Requiem with the Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh doubles the bass part with an early bassoon which was evidently common. McCreesh takes his historical re-construction in a different direction to this present disc, with McCreesh using adult falsettists on the top line, something that was relatively common in Spain where there was a tradition of high falsetto singing.

The present disc is something again, as we have a grandly rich sound. The young trebles and altos of the choir (a mixture of boys and girls) tend to dominate, with a lovely bright sound but this is surrounded by a rich halo of early brass and other instruments. Combined with the grandeur of Victoria's writing, the result is ineffably rich and grand, striking just the right sort of grand ceremonial effect. It brings a splendour and glorious technicolour effect to the majestic rigour of Victoria's part writing. 

This is not a recording for those interested in the fine detail of the part writing in this music, it is very much a grand gesture.  For the lower voices, the children and young women are joined by ex-choristers, pupils of the Toulouse Conservatoire Singing class and professional support, and the result is perhaps slightly less well integrated than the upper voices, occasionally individual voices stand out. I have found in the recent live performances that combining professional adult voices with young, recently broken ones can be tricky with the older performers tending to dominate.

The Requiem  is accompanied by a selection of contemporary motets, including one by Miguel Marques for the funeral of Queen Isabella of Bourbon in 1644, and one by Carlos Patino which uses a triple choir with instrumental obligati. Some motets are taken by choir alone and others by the instruments alone.

The Maitrise de Toulouse was created in 2006 at Toulouse Conservatoire, providing a specialised musical education for children and creating the acclaimed vocal ensemble. Les Sacqueboutiers, also based in Toulouse, was founded in 1976.

Whilst this disc may not make everyone's library shelves (and Paul McCreesh's recording is still my favourite), it gives us the chance to experience Victoria's Requiem as an ineffably grand work for choir and instruments, as it may have been performed in Madrid.

Manuel Correa (1600-1653) - Commisa mea pavesco
Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) - Hei mihi, Domine
Miguel Juan Marques (16??-16??) - Versa est in luctum
Tomas Luis de Victoria (c1548-1611) - Requiem (1605)
Alonso Lobo (c1555-1617) - Versa est in luctum
Tomas Luis de Victoria - O sacrum convivium
Mateo Romero (c1575-1647) - Libera me
Carlos Patino (1600-1675) - Taedet animam meam
La Maitrise de Toulouse
Les Sacqueboutiers
Mark Opstad (conductor)
Recorded at the Temple du Salin, Toulouse, France, 30-31 May & 1 June 2019

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