Ensemble Cantus Figuratus, Dominque Vellard
Glossa GCD C80015
This fine recording, made in 2000, was first issued on the Christophorus label in 2003. Escobar was originally from Porto; in the early 16th century he was music director and Magister Puerorum at Seville Cathedral, where he may have taught the young Morales. His four-voice mass, recorded here, is preserved in a manuscript from Tarazona Cathedral; the performance sets it in the context of a Marian feast as it may have been celebrated in the Capilla Real of Granada Cathedral in the early 16th century, using appropriate Spanish propers and adding three Peñalosa motets. Much musicological care has clearly gone into the project, though the (continuing) controversy over the use of instruments to accompany or replace the polyphony, and indeed the size of choir used, has to my ears not been satisfactorily settled. A mixed ensemble of some ten voices is used throughout for the Escobar Ordinary, with shawms and sackbuts being added in, e. g., the opening Kyrie and the Sanctus: the instruments actually replace the voices in the first Agnus Dei invocation. Conversely, a goodly proportion of the chant (e. g., much of the Gradual) is sung by one or two soloists. Overall, the effect is to make much of the polyphony sound rather homogenous and slightly lacking in subtlety; the intermittent addition of the ‘loud’ reed instruments only exaggerates this. The chant is beautifully sung, with appropriate rhythmic and cadential melodic embellishment; it would be fascinating to hear the polyphony similarly done by soloists!