Francisco Guerrero - Missa Surge propera

"Known in his lifetime as 'El cantor de Maria', Guerrero was second only to Victoria in Spanish renaissance music. His Marian motets are celebrated as some of the most beautiful compositions of the period: we include five of the best, including Ave virgo sanctissima, one of the most loved and imitated pieces of polyphony from any country." Peter Phillips

This SACD release is also available as a Compact Disc on CDGIM 040.

The SACD layer offers both surround sound (5.0) and stereo. The original recording was made in DSD.

For the track list and album notes and to buy the SACD or Album Download please click the link to the Hyperion Records website.

GIMSA 540
SACD

Artistic Quality - 10 / 10
Sound Quality  -  9 / 10

Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) spent his career in his home country, mostly at Seville Cathedral, and although he wrote a great deal of secular music, his widespread fame--which extended all the way across the Atlantic to the Spanish Americas--lay in his sacred works, embodied in Marian motets such as the masterpiece Ave virgo sanctissima. Although the featured work here is the Missa Surge propera--a substantial and impressive example of the genre and of Guerrero's organically engendered harmonic style--I found even greater interest among the motets, three in particular: Surge propera (in spite of its title, this apparently was not the source for the Mass), Regina caeli laetare, and the abovementioned Ave virgo sanctissima. The first of these, whose text is the well-loved passage from Song of Songs ("Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away...") shows an ideal embodiment of the love poetry in the sumptuous beauty of the music. Here is where my description "organically engendered harmony" is clearly shown: the harmony, which seems to go for pages and pages without firmly resolving, just forms and grows from the natural, steady flow of interwoven melodic lines. It creates a sense of effortlessness and freedom and inevitability that may occasionally remind you of Palestrina or even some English composers of the same period--but there's really nothing like Guerrero's relentless outpouring of sonority.

As usual, the Tallis Scholars deliver impeccable performances--articulate, vibrant, energetic, rhythmically propulsive, and well-paced, with a bright-ish choral tone that I found slightly hard-edged but that seems typical of this venue, London's Temple Church (I prefer this group's recordings made at the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Norfolk). For Tallis Scholars fans, there's no deliberation necessary; for listeners interested in 16th-century sacred choral music, you really need to get to know Guerrero, and this is where you should start.

Reproduced with the kind permission of classicstoday.com

David Vernier

Over the past decade at least, Renaissance & Baroque Society of Pittsburgh concerts have been dominated by instrumentalists. The presenting society has averaged about two vocal ensembles a season out of eight concerts. So, when subscribers were asked to vote for their favorite active groups to help celebrate the R&B's 40th anniversary this season, you'd expect instrumentalists to rule. But on the contrary, the winner, the venerable period choir the Tallis Scholars.

It's a measure of the talent and engaging presence of this historically informed choir, and Saturday night reminded the audience at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside of just why.

Director Peter Phillips has not rested on his laurels since founding the group in 1973, but subtly changed its makeup to be more vocally diverse. Most prominently, the two high sopranos boast operatic-like strength while the tenors are much more reserved and gentle in their tone. It creates a richer timbre that helps bring out individual contrapuntal lines.

The program was a luxuriant one: the Latinate sacred music of the Spanish high Renaissance, in particular that of Francisco Guerrero, Alonso Lobo and Tomas Luis de Victoria. But Phillips did not succumb to the temptation to put the sparkle lens on this 16th-century music -- he treated it dramatically. He shaped the volume of Guerrero's motet "Maria Magdalene," raising the intensity as it poured out emotion on the central phrase "he is risen." In Lobo's mass based on the motet, Phillips occasionally treated meter changes almost like accelerandi markings, to great effect, especially in the Gloria text, "Jesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu."

The works by Victoria further displayed Phillips' musicality. Three "Lamentations" were subdued, emphasizing the personal plane of this music. At moments of homophony, the singers sounded almost like a magnificent organ; in general they were in tune and tuned in to each other to a remarkable level. Balance was an occasional issue -- depending on where you sat, the sopranos and basses dominated. But when the group sang Guerrero's "Ave Virgo Sanctissima" (with its unison canon in the top two voices that astounds by how diffently he treats the melody when it appears the second time) and his sumptuous, eight-voice "Regina caeli," that issue melted away. To those who selected the Tallis Scholars, I am sure I am not the only member of the audience to say, "Thank you."

Andrew Druckenbrod

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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