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Review of Lamentationes, New York Polyphony Releases, June 2019

October 25, 2019

New York Polyphony Releases

World Premiere Recordings of Lost Works by
Francisco Peñalosa, Plus Music by
Pedro de Escobar and Francisco Guerrero


Vocal quartet New York Polyphony has released the album Peñalosa – Lamentationes, on BIS Records (BIS-2407 SACD). The album features rarely heard works from late 15th-century and early 16th-century Spanish composers Francisco de Peñalosa, Pedro de Escobar, and Francisco Guerrero, including the first recordings of Peñalosa’s Lamentations and movements of his Missa L’homme armé.

The end of the fifteenth century in Spain witnessed the emergence of a number of composers of outstanding ability who set the stage for the extraordinary flowering of polyphony in the following century. These works do not make regular appearances in liturgical celebrations or concert programmes, partly due to the way modern choirs are structured without the countertenor voice. Apart from this, the idea of the Spanish musical renaissance has come to mean the works of composers such as Tomás Luís de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero and Alonso Lobo rather than their illustrious predecessors Francisco de Peñalosa and Pedro de Escobar.

This CD release is therefore a significant contribution to the study of Spanish polyphony of the 15th and 16th centuries and a very welcome addition to recordings of this music. Most of the works are by Francisco de Peñalosa (1470-1528), with the most notable pieces being his Lamentationes Jeremiae Feria V and Lamentationes Jeremiae Feria VI.  These are both substantial works and, to quote a phrase by Bruno Turner, have the “dark and incandescent intensity of feeling of Spanish polyphony”: this incandescent intensity of feeling is admirably conveyed in these accomplished performances by New York Polyphony.

composer Francisco Penalosa (1470-1528)

Peñalosa, born c. 1470 in Talavera de la Reina near Madrid, first appears in historical records as a singer in the chapel of Ferdinand V of Aragon and then maestro de capilla in the household of Ferdinand’s grandson. He had a benefice at the Cathedral of Seville, but the Cathedral Chapter objected to his lengthy absences in Rome. He returned to Seville in 1525, and was appointed Cathedral Treasurer. None of his music is preserved in sources from outside the Iberian Peninsula, and most of his music is presumably composed while he was in the employ of the Court of Aragon. Peñalosa left six Masses, a few independent Mass sections, six MagnificatsLamentations, various hymns, and a series of motets. Peñalosa’s Lamentations, which only exist in two manuscripts from Tarazona Cathedral, are built on monophonic chant tones found in the 1516 Passionarium Toletanum.  Both pieces are deeply expressive music of the highest quality, with Lamentationes Jeremiae Feria V being particularly beautiful.

Also from Tarazona is the Stabat Mater by Pedro de Escobar, performed on this album between Peñalosa’s two Lamentations settings. This short piece and very beautiful piece is a setting of the first two verses of the text and resembles the work of Peñalosa, notably in its textural transparency and responsiveness to the text, qualities that are brought out by a well-balanced and sensitive performance.  Music such as this, which conveys a deep devotion and spirituality, is arguably best heard in the architectural and or liturgical contexts for which it was intended.  However, these recordings do successfully capture the appropriate atmosphere and have been thoughtfully produced.

Video preview:

Lamentationes Track List
1. Francisco de Peñalosa (1470-1528) – Lamentationes Jeremiae Feria V  [11’34]
2. Pedro de Escobar (1465-after 1535) – Stabat mater dolorosa [3’58]
3. de Peñalosa – Lamentationes Jeremiae Feria VI [11’21]
4. de Peñalosa – “Gloria in excelsis Deo” from Missa L’homme armé [4’39]
5. de Peñalosa – Sancta Maria, succurre miseris [2’18]
6. de Peñalosa – Unica est columba mea [2’25]
7. de Peñalosa – “Credo in unum Deum” from Missa L’homme armé [7’20]
8. Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) – Quae est ista [5’20]
9. Guerrero – Antes que comáis a Dios [2’17]
10 de Peñalosa – “Agnus Dei” from Missa L’homme armé [3’20]

Total Time: 56’41

New York Polyphony:
Geoffrey Williams, countertenor
Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor
Christopher Dylan Herbert, baritone
Craig Phillips, bass

Review by Barry Mitchell

To read more about pre-Renaissance Spanish music:

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