single play; Victoria: Requiem (Officium defunctorum 1605) Gabrieli Consort / Paul McCreesh (DG Archiv 447 095-2)

'Don't imagine for one moment that music such as this can be sold on the same winning ticket as the chart-topping Spanish monks (though doubtless that's how the industry will be selling it). Passive listening is not an option'
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The Independent Culture
"Respects and obsequies celebrated in the convent and royal chapel of the Descalzas by the stewards and executors of Her Christian Majesty the Empress [Maria of Austria]." In the year 1603. Now close your eyes and imagine the royal chapel "hung with black velvet and damasks... In the centre the sumptuous catafalque was supported on a frame 18 feet wide and 54 feet high without counting the Imperial crown at its pinnacle." The details are important. Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort aim to re-create not just the music but the whole experience: the sights, sounds, atmosphere, emotion of the occasion - to transport you, mind, body, and spirit.

The Mass proper begins in darkness - a single line of plainchant on the words "Requiem aeternam". But other voices begin lending harmonies, so discreet you're not quite sure you're hearing them at first. Gradually the harmonies intensify - wondrously - overlapping, echoing, re-echoing, filling the darkened space with light: "et lux perpetua luceat eis". The glory of Victoria's polyphony lies in its richness, its high colour and high drama, density and daring. Ancient, but Spanish. And in vivid contrast to the austerity, the sombre unisons of the plainchant. Of course, that too carries a hypnotic power all of its own, as current listening trends will testify. Consider here the protracted Dies Irae, sternly but soberly announced as befits its message, but characterised, lifted, by telling variations in voice type.

But don't imagine for one moment that music such as this can be sold on the same winning ticket as the chart-topping Spanish monks (though doubtless that's how the industry will be selling it). Passive listening is not an option. The "auditory sedative" principle does not apply here. Victoria's polyphony explodes from its formal context, lending an emotive charge to key moments in the proceedings. There isn't much of it, but when it comes... After the Dies Irae, after the Gospel with its ritual lighting of candles, the advent of the Offertorium, of harmony after so much monophony, of tenor voices seeming to ignite the words "libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum" ("deliver the souls of all who died in faith"), is something quite extraordinary. So, too, is the way the polyphony literally radiates from the word "Sanctus", culminating in a thrilling climax with the words "Hosanna in excelsis", falsettists ringing out on the top line.

The singing is quite wonderful, the stony, spacial atmosphere of Brinkburn Priory, Northumberland, adding considerably to the mystique of it all. "Let music rise out of chant as life rises out of ashes": you'll remember those words as Victoria arrives at his final cadence ("Kyrie eleison"). A few seconds of music, but almost worth the price of the disc alone.

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