This year's 400th anniversary of the death of the greatest of all Spanish composers, Tomás Luis de Victoria, was more than enough reason to devote a late-night prom to his ravishingly austere music. In 1988, Victoria's music was heard for the first time at the Proms, sung on that occasion by the Tallis Scholars, who were also making their debut. The main work in their programme then was Victoria's last published work, his requiem of 1605, Officium Defunctorum, and it ended this programme, too, in front of one of the biggest audiences for a late-night prom I've ever seen.
Peter Phillips and his group prefaced the requiem with two earlier works – the exquisite, joyous motet Dum Complerentur, and the Lamentations for Good Friday, which were part of the last collection Victoria published in Rome before he returned to Philip II's Spain, probably in 1587. The unadorned intensity of the Lamentations – the imitative settings of the Hebrew letter names that precede each section of the texts were chiselled rather than remotely florid – provided the perfect link to the world of the requiem. Here, everything was paired to its expressive essentials, with the little funeral motet Versa Est in Luctum at its emotional core.
The 12 singers of the Tallis Scholars – two to a part in the requiem – understand this musical world as well as anyone can today. They floated the long-limbed lines of the polyphony with unaffected directness, while Phillips shaped them in a perfectly understated way, with the Albert Hall's resonance for once adding bloom rather than blur to the textures.