Ensemble Plus Ultra

From Spain to Eternity: The Sacred Polyphony of El Greco's Toledo

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Several of the composers on this Archiv release -- Alonso Lobo, Cristóbal de Morales, perhaps Francisco Guerrero -- will be familiar to anyone who has sung in a college glee club. Their short motets, with orderly polyphony that seems to hang in a perfect balance, seem to communicate timeless religious essences. Less common are recordings that situate the music in the Spanish cities where it was composed, and that's not what is here. Although the graphics promise "sacred polyphony of El Greco's Toledo," only the career of the comparatively lesser-known Alonso de Tejeda really overlapped with that of Greek-Spanish master; the rest of the composers worked there earlier or, in the case of Francisco Guerrero, hardly at all (he served there as Morales' apprentice). And even if assigning correspondences between the music and art of a given place and time is a tricky business, the art of El Greco, with its Mannerist distortions of reality, seems almost diametrically opposed to the peaceful world of these composers; his musical cousin is perhaps Italian Carlo Gesualdo. So listeners are left with the cleanly sung readings of the Ensemble Plus Ultra, a bit small at eight singers but precise in that difficult configuration. The sounds coming out of your speakers will be appealing, but the group has plenty of competition on this ground.

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