SOUL-PENETRATING MUSIC BY PENALOSA PERFORMED PASSIONATELY BY PRO CANTIONE ANTIQUA.
Francisco de Penalosa (1470-1528)was the most respected composer among the first generation to bring the Franco-Flemish polyphonic style to that of Spain and the Iberian peninsula. He was associated with the royal court in Aragon, as well as the Cathedral of Seville; in addition, he had a lengthy stay in Rome as one of the Pope's most favored musicians. A great number of his works survive in Spanish sources.
Penalosa's motets are counted as twenty-two up to thirty in number by various authorities. The twenty-two certainly stand as a convincing testimony to the personality and subjectivity projected by a composer of character and one possessed of experimental techniques. These mark him as influenced by French and Flemish, notably Josquin, but with an undoubted distinction of his own.
Penalosa's style, although based primarily on Des Prez, employs much tighter structural and highly polished gestures which lead to an increased and very attractive emotional expressivity. And in that respect he represents an important beginning to the Spanish Choral Style that later Tomas de la Victoria(1548-1611) exemplified. Penalosa's compositions are entirely sacred, though the wide range of EMOTIONALITY would later be considered more properly secular in nature.
The Motets on this disc are only ordered so as to gave a variety of vocal contributions and of subjects- Penetential, Eucharistic, Marian, Christ's Passion.etc. - in groups. Bruno Turner(conductor) suggests that it is actively essential to read the texts and translations (from the Latin to English) included in the liner notes at least once when getting acquainted with these motets, and I second that! I have had this recording for several years(this is a reissue of a 1991 disc) and have enjoyed it more and more with each listening.
It is not wise to harbour dogmatic pretensions concerning the performance as to what is 'authentically' presented. Ideally, one would like to see some of the motets performed with a few boy choristers above the tenor and bass voices to each part and others by a choir with several voices to each part. But the most frequent medium for the rendition in Spain was a skilled group of adult male singers, often with one voice to a part.
The performance of Pro Cantione Antiqua, with it's all male choir seems to be an ideal group for recording this type of music. There is some really great singing going on here with the seven outstanding and experienced singers who are: Michael Chance, Timothy Penrose(counterteners); James Griffett, Ian Partridge(tenors); Stephen Roberts (baritone) ; Michael George, Adrian Peacock (basses). The three 'lead' singers that sing most of the time are Michael Chance, Ian Partridge and Michael George who supplies a lovely light bass line. These three are especially outstanding in their delivery of "Ave, Verum Corpus Natum' and 'Nigra sum sed formasa', and they provide us a with profoundly ethereal and moving performance.
Bruno Turner has done a superb job of pulling this all together with skill and am impressing sensitiviy to Penalosa's music. The singers are all skilled performers in the Early Music genre, and it shows! The sound is exquisite, refined with good vocal balance of parts and MUCH EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT!
GRAMOPHONE MAGAZINE: "Marvellously poetic music ...a record of rare distinction"