TOMAS LUIS DE VICTORIA: Salve regina; Missa De Beata Maria Virgine; Missa Surge propera; PALESTRINA: Surge, propera amica mea, et veni – Westminster Cathedral Choir/ Martin Baker – Hyperion CDA67891, 67:58 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
Victoria (1548 –1611) was the most famous composer of counter-reformation Spain, and an easy peer of Palestrina and di Lasso. He went to Rome in 1565 and succeeded Palestrina at the Roman Seminary, and probably studied with him, though the evidence is not certain. His abilities as an organist, begun while still a young student at the Ávila Cathedral, set him in good stead for a future career that involved playing, composition, and as an instructor of plainchant. His tenure in Italy ended in 1587 when Philip II named him chaplain to his sister, the Dowager Empress Maria, and the rest of his career was marked by comfort and success, even being allowed to travel freely and never giving up a permanent position of organist in various venues, notably as convent organist.
His music is more homophonic than contrapuntal in nature, though the latter is certainly not absent, and he places a lot of emphasis on subtle rhythmic play than others of his age. But most listeners are liable to be taken by the characteristic high soprano lines, soaring and fluid in nature that give so much of his music an ecstatic and lilting nature. The two masses here were both finally published in 1583 though the Missa De Beata Maria Virgine, a paraphrase mass taken from the motet Salve regina, was completed a few years earlier. The Missa Surge propera is a parody mass based on a motet by Palestrina, also given here. Both are exquisite reminders as to why Victoria is held in such regard, the master of his age, and a unique voice in late Renaissance choral music.
The Westminster Choir is simply superb here, as fine as I have ever heard them, and Hyperion’s standard CD sound is extraordinarily vibrant and focused. Highly recommended.
—Steven Ritter