Notes & Reviews:
Cristobal de Morales was the first Spanish composer to achieve true international fame. Although he is relatively well-represented in recordings, a few pieces have attracted the attention of performers at the expense of the majority of his output. This recording aims to begin filling that gap by presenting works, which are so far underexposed, yet which are of extremely high quality. In 1542, Morales wrote a set of eight 'Magnificats' (one in each of the 'tones' - 'keys,' in modern terms). The prevailing liturgy of the day, however, required the canticle to be sung with alternate verses sung to plainchant. To adhere to this, and perhaps to double his earnings, Morales split his compositions in half for publication - apparently two Magnificats per 'tone', each with half the verses only set to music.
'Music of astonishing beauty and rapt polyphonic intensity, which the voices of the Brabant Ensemble unfold with perfect poise' (The Guardian)
'Rice and his ensemble reveal a composer of warmth and passion who could also write resplendently joyful music when required ... The whole recital is marked by an extraordinary unanimity of ensemble, security of intonation and intelligence that surpass all rivals in the repertory. In short, this is a valuable and exquisitely sung addition to the Morales discography' (International Record Review)
'This is the Brabant Ensemble at their most vigorous and confident ... In a fast-growing discography, this is a valuable addition' (Gramophone)
'The young Oxford choir turns its immaculate ensemble, lucid diction and faultless tuning to the Spanish composer Morales. His Lamentations flow with exquisite sadness ... The lines blend like threads in a tapestry ... The selection of motets is rich with dynamic contrast, expressivity and downright beautiful singing' (Classic FM Magazine)
'The Magnficat setting glows with power, and the three Lamentations have a grave beauty impossible to resist with the radiant tone and golden blend of Stephen Rice's Brabant Ensemble. The wise selection focuses on material underexposed elsewhere' (The Times)
'This first-rate recording makes an important contribution not only for its exceptional performances, but in its thoughtful programming... Essential' (ClassicsToday.com)
Gramophone Classical Music Guide
This recording suggests how central is Morales's position within the High Repertoire. Often spoken of as a precursor of Palestrina, here (as in the Lamentations settings that open the programme) he seems just as clearly to prefigure Lassus's own penitential mode (especially at 'Nun: Vigilavit'). Stephen Rice leaves aside the Mass repertory in favour of the motet. Following the Lamentations set, this selection is mostly of Marian pieces. The single exception is an impressive celebratory piece commemorating the elevation of Ippolito d'Este, brother of the Duke of Ferrara, to the cardinalate. Unlike some of the Marian motets this has not been recorded before, and it shows off a more public side of the composer. The motets range in scoring from four to six voices, but whatever the number of voices, the counterpoint is always perfectly intelligible.
Obviously that's due to the clarity of the composer's textures, but it also reflects well on the Brabant Ensemble, who turn in very solid readings, subdued or serene, as text and music demand. In the Magnificat, the intensity steps up a notch, reaching an impressive climax. Indeed, the ensemble quality here belies the fact that only four voices are involved (except at the very end); this is the Brabant Ensemble at their most vigorous and confident. For this reading, Rice opts for the polyphonic setting of all the verses, rather than alternate half of them with plainchant, a common practice of the time. In a fast-growing discography, this is a valuable addition.
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