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Morales Requiem and Motets

available at Amazon
Morales, Requiem Mass (5 v.), Lamentabatur Jacob, Inclina Domine aurem tuam, Miserere nostri deus, Música Ficta, R. Mallavibarrena

Cantus C 9627
Enchiriadis EN 2002

available at Amazon
Morales, Requiem Mass (5 v.), Gabrieli Consort, P. McCreesh

Online scores:
Morales, Missa Pro Defunctis (5 v.) | Lamentabatur Jacob | Miserere nostri deus | Inclina Domine aurem tuam
If it is not already on your shelf and you are disposed to like austere but intensely mystical Spanish Renaissance polyphony, you need to get to know the five-voice setting of the Requiem Mass by Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500-1555). Morales was one of the greatest Spanish composers of the 16th century, maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of Ávila, in the years just before a young woman named Teresa stole away from her parents' home to join the Carmelite convent there -- Morales went on to Rome to work as a papal chorister. The recording of note was made by the Gabrieli Consort directed by Paul McCreesh, about a decade ago, more faithful to what is known about 16th-century performance practice than an otherwise fine version led by Jordi Savall in the early 1990s. McCreesh's reading of the work is somber and dense, oriented toward the lower voices, with the chant parts of the setting realized in knotty parallel organum and the only instrumental accompaniment given to a dulcian, the historical ancestor of the bassoon.

While the McCreesh recording is still eminently listenable, the Spanish ensemble Música Ficta made a recording of the work around the same time, which has just crossed my desk. It could not be more different: where McCreesh (and Savall) tend toward darkness, the five mixed voices (two women, three men) of this group brighten the work considerably, aided by the ethereal, evanescent accompaniment of an organ. If McCreesh's reading was an earthly yelp, this is a celestial sigh. Ignasi Jordà accompanies discreetly, never overwhelming the voices (to a fault in a few places, where the soprano voice sharpens slightly out of tune), and improvises intonationes for some movements, apt but never showy. Instead of pairing the Requiem Mass with the Morales setting of the texts for the Office of the Dead, as others do, this recording includes three motets that could conceivably all be programmed with the Mass at a funeral, especially the worthy Lamentabatur Jacob, setting the text of Jacob's lament on the death of his sons Joseph and Benjamin. If anyone has recorded the other setting of the Missa Pro Defunctis by Morales, for four voice, I would like to know about it.


Through the graceful intervention of Bob Shingleton, I can now direct you to this post at On an Overgrown Path. Apparently, the recording originally reviewed here, distributed by the Enchiriadis label, is a pirated version. In fact, it was the subject of a lawsuit against that company by Cantus Records. I have now corrected the link (and image) to direct you to the correct, legal version. If anyone actually ordered this recording in the few hours this post was up with the wrong recording, you probably still have time to cancel that order and replace it with the Cantus recording, which is apparently better edited -- and cheaper.


Pliable said...

Charles, well done on your point of clarification.

But, I have to say, I have never been able to find the faults with the Enchiriadis release, other than the higher price. I have lived with the 'pirate' version for four years and still find it immensely satisfying.

The good folks at Prelude Records, Norwich, where my copy came from also cannot find anything wrong with the Enchiriadis CD, and continue to stock it. The fact that it is still in the catalogue suggests there may be another side to this argument that we have not heard.

I have bought a number of other Enchiriadis releases over the years. They are an excellent little label, with some niche repertoire that is well worth exploring -

I am not sure what the Morales of this particular story is ...

Charles T. Downey said...

Agreed -- the Enchiriadis disc obviously sounds good enough to my ears. To learn the real story, one would probably need to have a Cristo Ball...