The Hilliard Ensemble: In Paradisum – Music of Victoria and Palestrina (ECM New Series 1653)


The Hilliard Ensemble
In Paradisum: Music of Victoria and Palestrina

The Hilliard Ensemble
David James counter-tenor
John Potter tenor
Rogers Covey-Crump tenor
Gordon Jones baritone
Recorded September 1997 at Propstei St. Gerold
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In Paradisum is a trinity within a trinity. Shuffling the works of Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina(1525/26-1594) between plainsong selections from the Toule Graduale manuscript of 1610, the ever-attentive Hilliard Ensemble offer us one of their finest recordings yet. Ivan Moody duly reminds us in his accompanying essay that the prolific Palestrina and the younger, more reclusive Victoria lived primarily by and of the Spirit. As composers, they have grown into stars of a Renaissance music niche market, but in the Hilliards’ throats they are votive candles whose flames remain alive in our hearts as we listen, as evidenced by the liturgical surroundings in which we encounter their music here. Embracing every note with humility and grace, these performances chart a significant shift from monophony to polyphony.

Victoria’s Officium Defunctorum, his last published work, was written in memory of Dowager Empress Maria, for whom he served as personal chaplain until her death in 1603. Whatever thorns of sadness are to be found in this music are filed to rounded points by the fluid voices of this recording. The delicate changes of register in the opening “Taedet animam meam” set a plaintive model for all that follows. The effect of the “Libera me Domine” farther in, with its broad strokes and tender embraces, seems to percolate into the entire program. Those who appreciate the subtle complexities of both plainchant and polyphony will appreciate their being juxtaposed in the “Peccantem me quotidie,” which alternates between the two in a seamless responsory. We are humbled by another swath of responsorial humility in a second, 13-minute “Libera me Domine,” this time by Palestrina, who is further represented by a selection of motets, including the flowering Domine quando veneris (which almost comes as a soft shock to the senses in the company of Victoria’s denser invocations) and the resplendent Heu mihi Domine. Palestrina works with unsteady lines and favors weaving the lower voices into a deeper foundation, as in his Ad Dominum cum tribularer clamavi.

The chant that fleshes out the rest of the album is some of the most affecting one is likely to find on disc, and allows us an even more visceral understanding of our own mortality. And while all of this music deals with the darker sides of mortality (the Victoria and Palestrina being drawn from texts for the Office of the Dead, and the chants comprising an anonymous Requiem Mass), it steps outside of time, reminding us that death is something we all share, and that in being so it is holy.

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