Moreover, given the flourishing of
mysticism (Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, for example) and the
rich body of religious paintings associated with El Greco, we can place this
“holy trinity” in a cultural milieu where religion assumed an
unusually strong hold.
There are several things that make Guerrero distinctive among this three,
not least the biographical color that derives from his trip to the Holy Land
and his confrontation with pirates on the voyage. He also is, of the three,
the only one to compose a significant body of secular works in addition to
masses and motets, a notably wider range of compositions. And while this
recording from Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars restricts itself to
liturgical works, it is Guerrero’s range that once again seemss
notable. We are treated here to music that ranges from abstract counterpoint
to highly affective, emotional expressions, and the affective qualities
themselves span luxuriant dolor to exuberant joy.
The Missa Surge Propera is a more abstract work than the motets,
with closely controlled counterpoint and long stretches of uniform texture
and procedures. Phillips, however, remains alert to the text and sculpts the
architecture of the piece with dynamic and tempo inflections, and also a fine
ear for large-scale effects. Sometimes Guerrero points the way, as in the
Credo where the incarnation section becomes simpler, but in all cases,
Phillips is intent—successfully so—in uniting classically
constrained contrapuntal writing with engagingly dynamic interpretation.
Occasionally, when the interpretation evokes strength, the reading seems
perhaps overly strong. For example in the “pleni sunt caeli”
section of the Sanctus, long notes are unusually intense and square shaped in
a way that seems less rather than more expressive. This is all the more
apparent in that the well-contoured, shapely line is a hallmark of
Phillips’ beautiful conceptions of the motets.
Some of the motets are lamentative, like “Usquequo, Domine”
and “Hei mihi, Domine,” and this musical lamentation was
particularly resonant with the Spanish spirituality that defined the
“dark night of the soul.” “Usquequo” is poignant with
its lachrymal descents and homophonic settings of individual phrases, all of
which receive a finely attentive response from Phillips and the Scholars.
(And the last chord is simply sublime!) At the other end of the emotional
spectrum, the “Regina caeli” highlights a joyful richness of
sound, and the performance dazzles with its brilliant dynamism.
The Tallis Scholars, now in their thirty-third year, remain among the best
interpreters of sixteenth-century liturgical polyphony. And in this Guerrero
anthology, it is the commitment to an expressive mode of interpretation
itself that marks the recording with trademark distinction.