The 18 singers of the British choir Tenebrae make a lovely sound, pure, yet not so dispassionate as the larger cathedral choirs in the classic English style. They take their name from a (mostly former) Catholic service during the last three days of Holy Week, and their style beautifully fits the settings of these texts from the late 16th century. The contents of this album partly overlap with a Tenebrae release that also included settings by Carlo Gesualdo; both are excellent, and which one to pick probably depends on your attitude toward Gesualdo's comparatively overheated music. The set of Victoria responsories for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday make a persuasive group. Although Victoria's music, here as elsewhere, is somber in tone, his responsories are not overwhelming expressions of grief but rather musically profound structures. The music is harmonically rich, not chromatic like Gesualdo's but reflective of the text in countless different ways, with tension and meaning added, for example, by the artful delay of a cadence. The question of text and how it is treated would have been paramount for listeners of this period, and Tenebrae's performances get you into it. Maybe you should acquire both albums. The sound environment of London's St. Alban the Martyr church is both appropriate and well handled.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim