Harry Christophers / The Sixteen

Hail, Mother of the Redeemer - Tomás Luis de Victoria

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The British Renaissance a cappella group the Sixteen has (or, as the case may be, have) recorded a good deal of music by Tomás Luís de Victoria, and you can see why in this 2011 release of works connected with the figure of Mary. Victoria was a composer of the Catholic Counter Reformation, avoiding as strenuously as Palestrina did the extremes of chromaticism and pictorial representation. He uses pure textures, moving in careful steps from one musical event to the next. Yet his music is extremely expressive, with a mixture of mysticism and very concrete somberness that makes it instantly identifiable. Sixteen voices make up an ensemble of the perfect size for this music, and the slightly sweetened cathedral sound honed to perfection over the years by Sixteen leader Harry Christophers brings out the various expressive devices in the motets recorded here, mostly rhetorical rather than pictorial. The centerpiece is a sumptuous Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater in eight voices, and here, too, the group shines, picking out voices and horizontal lines from the wall of vertical harmonies in a performance that gives the impression of vast space with a very small group of singers. Recorded very well at London's All Hallows Church in October 2010, this album was on the streets (and the sites) within four months, and it has a quality of immediate music-making that adds something indefinable to Renaissance music, which ought not to sound as though it has been entombed in a musical museum. Quite lovely, and recommended as a place to start with this very popular British small choir.

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