Monday 16 December 2013

Fine performances from Manfred Cordes and the Weser-Renaissance Bremen in Christmas motets by Cristóbal de Morales on a new release from CPO

Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553) was born in Seville, an area with a rich musical heritage. It is believed that he studied under maestro de capilla, Pedro Fernandez de Castilleja. His education extended to classical literature.

His first professional appointment was as maestro de capilla of Avila in 1526, before moving to Plasencia two years later. He was temporarily suspended after overstaying a leave of absence in Seville, later resigning in 1531.  It is believed that Morales travelled to Naples, but the first documented appointment was as a singer in the papal choir in Rome where he stayed for a decade.

His music spread throughout Europe, probably due to the opportunity he had performing before visiting dignitaries. His earliest dated composition is the six part motet Jubilate Deo omnis terra, written for the peace celebrations at Nice in June 1538. His first printed works appeared in 1539, the same year that he travelled to Loreto, accompanying the pope. In 1540 he took a leave of absence to visit Spain but was back in Rome in 1541. Although the remaining period of his time in Rome saw wide publication of his works, his health started to decline with a number of absences from the choir due to illness.

Morales left Rome in 1545 and is believed to have returned to Seville. Certainly the composer Guerrero wrote that he studied with Morales when he was eighteen years of age, which would place Morales in Seville in 1545. It is known that he was appointed maestro de capilla of Toledo Cathedral later that year. By 1547 a combination of illness and debt forced him to resign his post at Toledo and return to Andalusia where he became maestro de capilla to the Duke of Arcos at Marchena. 1551 saw Morales’ appointment as maestro de capilla of Málaga Cathedral. Problems over discipline with the choir led to reprimands and Morales’ application for the again vacant post of maestro de capilla at Toledo. This was not to be as later, in 1553, he died.

Morales’ compositions include a large number of mass settings, magnificats and lamentations, motets and secular vocal works.

It is some of his Christmas motets that have been recorded by Weser-Renaissance Bremen directed by Manfred Cordes on a new release from CPO . Weser-Renaissance Bremen were founded in 1993 by Manfred Cordes and has gone on to become a regular guest at leading European early music festivals.

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Morales’ motet O magnum mysterium à 4 is surely one of the finest examples of 16th century Spanish polyphony, beautifully realised here by Weser-Renaissance.  The acoustic of the Stiftskirche Bassum  is very suitable for catching the mystic quality of the music, with the voices so well balanced, the lower voices supporting the upper ranges beautifully. Manfred Cordes keeps a fine ebb and flow in this finely nuanced performance.

Missus est Gabriel Angelus à 4 brings some rich blends of vocal sounds in Morales’ lovely overlaid textures – a lovely motet. There are some fine individual voices as the motet Ecce, virgo concipiet à 4 progresses, with Morales achieving a transparency that reveals the individual beauty of each vocal line. There is some pretty powerful and wonderfully controlled singing here.

The gentle, sorrowful motet Veni, Domine et noli tardare à 6 builds lovely textures revealing Morales as a real master of polyphony and his Ave Maria, gratia plena à 5 shows how he could always find new ways to build the textures from a seemingly simple opening.

A bright, transparent optimism pervades Puer natus est nobis à 3, dominance being given to the upper voices in this beautifully inspiring motet with its lovely repeated alleluias. Pastores dicite, quidnam vidistis? à 4 brings more terrific weaving of vocal textures with the lovely diskant voice of Alex Potter often leading. Exultata est Sancat Dei Genitrix à 4 is a slower, more reflective motet that gently and slowly builds in polyphonic textures with such a natural melodic flow from these singers.

Salve Regina à 5 is, as would be expected, one of the longer pieces on this new disc. Weser-Renaissance show firm, rich voices and great clarity of line. They are perfectly paced with Manfred Cordes allowing subtle little forward surges to give impetus to the music. There is a lovely central section where the voices weave repeated lines. Sancta et immaculata virginitas à 4 is another of Morales’ fine motets with a gentle rising and falling opening and Manfred Cordes achieving remarkably fine control of these voices.

There is such a distinctive way in which Morales opens the motet Ave regina coelorum à 5 before weaving his textures with some lovely upper voices, something which is also found in Candida virginitas à 4.

The brief Salva nos, stella maris à 5 seems to encapsulate so much of Morales’ beautiful clear textures – a lovely little motet.

The longest work on this recording is Cum natus esset Iesus à 5, full of momentum, joy and some terrific textures. There is such a full, bright sound from this choir but always clarity as well as some lovely rich deep notes. This motet is enough to lift any spirits.

Given such fine performances and a terrific recording with informative booklet notes, full text and translations this is a highly recommendable release.

If you want a Christmas CD, something that stands out from the usual seasonal offerings, then get a copy of this new release to enjoy now or at any time of the year.

This also gives me a good opportunity to wish Seasons’ Greetings to all of my followers and to all the Record Companies and Publishers that have supported me during 2013.

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