Guerrero: Mass; Motets/Tallis Scholars

Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 9

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. [3/9/2006]



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Recording Details:

FRANCISCO GUERRERO - Missa Surge propera; Motets (Surge propera; Ave virgo sanctissima; Regina caeli laetare; others)


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