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The Glory of Spain

Austin Friars St. Monica’s School, Carlisle
3 December 2011

Few people I suspect know much Spanish sacred music other than that of Tomas Luis de Victoria, whose monumental Magnificat Primi Toni and resplendent Salve Regina constituted the finale of a fascinating journey through two centuries of rich musical tradition.

The rawness of a rousing 14th century Virelai gave way to the quasi-plainsong O virgo splendens in which the Wordsworth Singers' unanimity of pitch and blend enabled the round's striking dissonances to be keenly felt despite the chapel’s generous acoustic. Likewise there was commendable clarity in the densely packed vocal lines of two pieces for lower voices by Penalosa.

The return of the sopranos heralded a heightening of emotional intensity in Morales' O sacrum convivium, whilst the stark simplicity of Parce mihi Domine tested the singers' ability to maintain perfect intonation without rhythmic stimulus. If there was a hint of tiredness in Ceballos' slow moving Hortus conclusus, an energetic performance of O Virgo benedicta more than made amends.

Guerrero’s 12 part Duo seraphim provided a stunning start to the second half, and in the six part Maria Magdalena a thrilling climax at the word 'surrexit' was heightened by the restrained opening section. An exuberant Regina caeli by Navarro contrasted with the slow harmonic rhythm of In passione positus, after which Gordon Ferries gave the singers a well deserved break with his flawless playing of Spanish baroque guitar music. Earlier in the programme he had contributed a set of French Renaissance pieces.

Conductor Mark Hindley is to be congratulated on resurrecting so much unjustly neglected music and for eliciting from the choir performances of which many professional ensembles would be proud.

Jeremy Suter