What riches await the attentive listener who cares to explore the world of the Renaissance parody mass! A great composer creates a distinctive and beautiful motet or chanson and then another, equally fine, takes this musical material and develops, extends, even enhances it - resulting in a new, more substantial work that still has those same qualities of beauty and distinction, but multiplied several times over. From the very start it was a brilliant formula for musical fascination and delight, and it still works just as effectively for us today. The Tallis Scholars and Peter Phillips have already brought us many examples of this benign plagiarism which flourished so honourably in Renaissance times, and the present disc is one of their finest.
The Spanish composer Guerrero's motet Maria Magdalene, which opens the CD, is a beautiful and affecting setting of a resurrection text. It begins with a distinctive rising motif followed, at the words "et altera Maria", by the first of a number of graceful, bell-like descending figures that characterise the first section of the piece. These motifs, and the work as a whole, offer a superb model for the following Missa Maria Magdalene by Alonso Lobo, Guerrero's pupil and his junior by about 30 years, and indeed the younger composer uses his master's material to great effect to fashion a truly lovely sacred masterpiece.
But the connections do not end there. Music-lovers who know Paul McCreesh's marvellous CD programmes of Spanish Renaissance music, such as the Morales Mass for the Feast of St. Isidore of Seville, will immediately recognise the beautiful opening instrumental piece on that disc, Guerrero's untitled Cançión, as music identical to the first half of the composer's Maria Magdalene motet. On the McCreesh disc the work is superbly played by the wind instruments of the Gabrieli Players - in fact it's one of many glorious instrumental pieces interspersing the vocal works on that disc and on their Music for the Duke of Lerma, both highly recommended for those who don't already know them. Returning to the present Tallis Scholars CD, then, it is an equal delight to hear this work in a different - and presumably its original - form, and all the more so when followed by Lobo's wonderful elaborations in the movements of his Mass. Incidentally Guerrero's motet can also be found on a CD from The Cardinall's Musick directed by Andrew Carwood, consisting mainly of another parody mass, this time Guerrero's own Missa Congratulamini mihi based on a motet by Crecquillon; that too is a fine performance, although very different in style from that on the present disc.
Here, Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars are at the very top of their form, and this applies equally to the remaining Lobo motets on the disc. The only one of these that has been frequently recorded is Versa est in luctum, but the others are equally fine - my own favourites being O quam suavis est, Quam pulchri sunt and Ave Maria. The result is a feast of lovely music, superbly sung in a church acoustic and beautifully captured by Gimell's recording. Altogether this disc offers an outstanding example of Spanish Renaissance music and of the endlessly fascinating phenomenon of the parody mass.