Wednesday, 10 November, 2021 at 8:30 pm
Alamire Foundaton / 30CC
Abdijkerk van Park, Leuven, Belgium
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Jean-Yves Duperron, Classical Music Sentinel (February, 2018)
It’s Friday, April 5th 1585. Good Friday. It’s the end of the day and you are sitting in a cold, dark, faintly candlelit monastic chapel. After a few readings, a round of plainchant and a long period of prayer in absolute silence you hear, for the very first time, the polyphonic voices of a choir intone the Tenebrae factae sunt, one of the Good Friday Responsories from the Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). You are transfixed, as if the breath of God itself was creating these entrancing sounds. You feel your soul stir and rise up from the tedium of a long, hard day ….
It is seriously hard to imagine what that moment, over 400 years ago, would have felt like. We have been spoiled by continuous, instant exposure to everything this world can offer. So much so that we are now jaded and weary of it all. But try and imagine how beautifully “alien” and “transportive”, the mystic ardor of Victoria’s music must have felt like. Tomás Luis de Victoria was the Spanish incarnation of the finest Franco-Flemish polyphonic style of the time. And while some of his contemporaries wrote artistic and highly refined counterpoint, Victoria displayed a greater range and depth of expression. If you listen to the aforementioned Tenebrae factae sunt you will know exactly what I mean. By its simple religious devotion, it exudes the highly sacred and profound.
The dozen or so members of the vocal ensemble Stile Antico have been the recipients of many accolades and prestigious awards over the years, assigned to many of the fine recordings they’ve released on the Harmonia Mundi label. And deservedly so. The authenticity with which they express the Renaissance masters is what draws you back 400 years. They conjure well the sense of timelessness this music projects, with accurate balance and instinctive pacing. They make pitch-perfect ensemble intonation seem simple, but many singers will attest that this is one of the hardest things to achieve when singing a capella. The quality of the recording itself sits them in the proper setting of a small chapel and not a cavernous cathedral.
Do your soul some good. Turn off the outside world, turn down the lights, and put this on. Bask in the glow of music that in its innocent simplicity, attains perfection.