Pro Cantione Antiqua

Francisco de Peñalosa: Complete Motets

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Francisco de Peñalosa was a Spanish master roughly contemporary to Josquin who served in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain; he joined the service of the royal chapel about seven years after Ferdinand and Isabella sent Christopher Columbus to "sail the ocean blue" and was still serving as a canon in the Cathedral of Seville when he died in 1528. Peñalosa is reckoned by some as the greatest Spanish composer of his age, which included other worthy figures such as Juan del Encina, Juan de Anchieta, and Pablo Escobar; Spanish chroniclers who lived in the generation after Peñalosa insisted he was greater than Josquin himself, and for decades Peñalosa's motet Sancta mater istud agas was mistakenly accepted as the work of Josquin. It's no surprise, as nearly half the works attributed at one time or another to Josquin have proven the work of others. However, there remains the knotty question as to what really belongs to Peñalosa, and Pro Cantione Antiqua, in their Helios recording of The Complete Motets of Francisco de Peñalosa, attempts to address the issue with the most up-to-date and best scholarship at their disposal.

It results in a selection of 22 motets, all more or less securely attributed to Francisco de Peñalosa, though excluding Memorare piissima -- once famously attributed to Peñalosa -- because a majority of scholars have weighed in favor of Escobar on that one of late; these motets are addressed to a wide array of services and liturgical needs. Much of Peñalosa's career was actually spent away from Seville in Rome as a guest singer, to such extent that angry letters from Seville demanding Peñalosa's return yet survive. But no music of Peñalosa's has been found in Rome, indicating that most, if not all, of Peñalosa's extant music dates from the last two decades of his life, a period in which Josquin himself was mostly semi-retired and, for the last part of it, dead; Peñalosa was really carrying the torch for Josquin's style. He may have mastered it, but this also leads to a kind of stylistic regularity that leads to monotony and Bruno Turner wisely suggests in the notes that this disc be taken in small doses in order to keep the material fresh. It is interesting that, at least in this case, achieving technical security in a high style doesn't necessarily mean it translates to major entertainment value for modern-day listeners, and despite the "greatness" accorded to Peñalosa by his contemporaries, the spicy ensaladas of Encina or less regular polyphony of Escobar might be considered preferable, despite the lower rank of such material in Spanish Renaissance. Nevertheless, despite Peñalosa's conservativism there are many fine moments here: the marvelous writing in low ranges in Adoro te, Domine Jesu Christe; the striking chordal progressions in Ave, vera caro Christi; and the flowing, carefully crafted polyphony in Precor te, Domine Jesu Christe, fitted to an appropriately sanguine text concerning the gory details about Christ's crucifixion. Transeunte Domino Jesu is marvelous in the extreme concision of its main idea, which is then spread out into an impressive array of texture.

Pro Cantione Antiqua sings very well here; in the early going there is some sheepishness of tone among the countertenors, but this settles down as the program moves along. No location of recording is provided by Hyperion, and presumably this was taped in the studio; be that as it may, this recording is a bit thinner and not as sumptuous as is Hyperion's wont, but it doesn't suffer much for that. Originally released on the main Hyperion label in 1992, this Helios edition is a re-release that appeared in 2009.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
2:37
2
3:05
3
2:06
4
3:03
5
2:31
6
2:15
7
2:48
8
2:46
9
2:40
10
2:34
11
3:29
12
2:39
13
3:38
14
3:48
15
3:16
16
4:14
17
3:04
18
4:01
19
2:43
20
4:22
21
2:53
22
3:09
blue highlight denotes track pick