Morales: The Seven Lamentations

Utopia Belgian handmade polyphony
TT
Et’cetera KTC 1538

An uncommonly interesting issue; the first, as far as I am aware, to bring all Morales’ surviving lamentations together on one disc.

The complex musicological issues surrounding their recent publication are discussed in Eugeen Schreurs’ scholarly sleeve notes; further detail can be found in Cristobal de Morales, Sources, Influences, Reception, edited by Owen Rees and Bernadette Nelson (Boydell Press 2007) and in Michael Noone’s excellent notes to Ensemble Plus Ultra’s disc Morales en Toledo  (Glossa GCD 922001, 2005). The story behind Noone’s discovery and reconstruction of the first Lamentation (track 9 on this recording) is particularly notable, involving the collation of a poorly preserved (and modified to suit later liturgical changes from the Toledan to the Roman rite) manuscript of Morales’ time from Toledo Cathedral, a copy in Puebla Cathedral in Mexico and a contemporary lute and voice intabulation by Miguel de Fuenllana.

Performances are exemplary; Utopia perform with crystalline clarity, bringing Morales’ austere and sublimely beautiful polyphony to darkly glowing life. They have taken the sensible decision to structure their programme on purely musical, rather than liturgically correct, grounds, and include a couple of appropriate pieces of Toledan plainchant, elsewhere discernable as cantus firmus material, which helps to place the polyphony in its musical context.

The notes are well-written, but I would have liked a little more detail on the individual pieces (e. g., vocal scoring, cantus firmus usage, provenance); they are sometimes also confusing in referring to the Lamentations by their liturgical placing, rather than by the order in which they are sung on the recording.

No matter – the music and the performances are what count here, and both are absolutely first class. I particularly enjoyed Morales’ kaleidoscopically varied settings of the Hebrew initial letters which introduce each verse of the Lamentations. In short, this is a lovely disc.

Alastair Harper