. . . [a] fascinating anthology of sublime five- and six-part motets and antiphons . . . ["Versa est in luctum"]: a weightless sheen of soaring harmonies.
All four composers featured on this recording worked in Toledo over the space of some 80 years. "Versa est in luctum" is sung with poise and restraint . . . Plus Ultra's exploration of Lobo's musical environment is attractive and persuasive. Morales, in particular, is a composer whose music is always worth hearing. In his excellent notes, Michael Noone points out that his Lamentations continued to be sung in Toledo 50 years after his death. It's easy to hear why, for here he brings out the best in Plus Ultra . . . Lobo's "Ave, regina caelorum" concludes this enjoyable disc on a more optimistic note.
Among its many treasures are Alonso Lobo's transcendent motet "Versa est in luctum" . . . -- its profoundly mournful sentiments imbued with a sense of raw, private grief, in contrast with the many larger-scale choral performances -- and the Lamentation "Expandit Sion manus suas" by Morales, the plangent, arching lines of which are hauntingly shaped in this account . . . ["Miserere mei, Deus"] plumbs the depths of human grief in its tenebrous colours and madrigalesque dissonances, starkly highlighted by individual voices here . . . [Lobo / Missa "Prudentes virgines"]: Thanks to the ensemble's modest resources, the contrapuntal brilliance of the Mass shines through, notably in the complex canonic Hosannas, where the delivery is clean and agile, the texture never muddied by the wash of sound produced by a large choir . . . The effect is still opulent: texts are painted with a vivid dynamic range . . . The results -- intimate yet intense -- are a fitting reflection of Counter-Reformation ethos . . .
. . . sometimes, a label does something so innovative, and so well, that you have to stop and listen. "From Spain to Eternity: The Sacred Polyphony of El Greco's Toledo" is one such album. Beautifully recorded and ingeniously themed . . . the music is incredible . . . ["Ensemble Plus Ultra"] are terrific here. The label has always had success recording Spanish polyphony, and these gifted young musicians continue a record of excellence in a way that makes me look forward to their next release. From the brief Tejeda motets (effortless and haunting) to the sweetly flowing one from Francisco Guerrero, each piece is lovingly sung and recorded. Morales is also a major presence here, his massive "Expandit Sion manus suas" is a gem of a lamentation, and lingers in the ear with inventive harmonics and purity of sound . . . a delicious half-hour Missa "Prudentes virgines". Starting with a soaring, expertly-crafted "Kyrie" . . . the surprisingly lyrical and contemplative setting contrasts with some of the more extroverted masses of the age, notably a few from Guerrero. Lôbo focuses more on individual vocals, each mass part is like a motet in itself. The singing is wonderful, dynamically expressive and wholly idiomatic. Lôbo also bookends the release; with a gloriously built motet to whet the appetite, and a delightful Marian antiphon to close. Full texts are provided, and the value of this release overall is very high. A must for vocal fans.