Although Tomás Luis de Victoria is, by judgment of posterity, the unchallenged kingpin of sixteenth century Spanish sacred music, during his lifetime Cristóbal de Morales was the best-known Spanish composer, traveling the most widely and having the largest sphere of influence. While Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble's 1994 ECM album Officium helped out Morales' reputation a great deal, Morales still has to come a long way to catch up to Victoria in terms of recordings. Enter Ensemble Plus Ultra and its director Michael Noone to help lift the lid from Morales' box of treasures in a Glossa disc entitled Morales en Toledo: Polifonía inédita del Códice 25. The word "inédita" is more toward "unpublished" rather than "unedited" here, as Noone himself created the editions performed by Ensemble Plus Ultra from three Toledo-based manuscripts. Códice 25 is the primary text in use, a heavily damaged volume not investigated until 2002, but discovered to contain manuscripts of 20 Morales works, 14 being previously unknown. All of these date from Morales' tenure at Maestro di Capilla of Toledo Cathedral, which lasted only 23 months from 1545-1547, and none of these pieces have been recorded before.
Noone's work is impressive indeed; the Ensemble Plus Ultra sings this music flexibly, but with control and a great sense of occasion. All of the relevant chant incipits are included for these motets, and the incipits themselves come from the specific chant books in use at Toledo during Morales' time there. Noone's liner notes are serious and very informative, and the packaging is a beauty to behold. However, it's a pity that Morales' music isn't more interesting than it is -- these are very solemn pieces, quite similar to one another, and listening in short stretches doesn't seem to relieve the sense of sameness akin to all of the selections. Noone informs the reader that "it had previously been thought that his creativity was in decline, the newly recovered works demonstrate that (Morales) was in fact at the height of his powers." While the music, and performances, is very pleasing and well done, nothing here seems to scale the glorious heights of neither Morales' masses, nor anything in his Officium Defunctorum. If one is already strongly inclined toward the work of Morales, then Morales en Toledo: Polifonía inédita del Códice 25 virtually recommends itself. Nevertheless, for those looking for a way into Morales, there are a handful of other recordings, including Officium, that might represent a better introduction to his work.