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International Record Review - (02//2014)
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Reviewer:  Ivan Moody


Tenebrae and Nigel Short are no strangers to Victoria’s music, having made an eloquently beautiful recording of his 1605 Requiem a few years ago (it was reviewed in IRR in June 2011). Their approach to what is possibly the most concentrated essence of the composer’s work is correspondingly informed with musical intelligence. There is a careful shaping of lines throughout and very great care taken to shape the dramatic narrative of these liturgical and human masterpieces.
Intonation is always precise and this, coupled with the ensemble’s sense of phrasing, can be breathtaking, as, for example, at the opening of Unus ex discipulis, but there is still room for the individuality of the voices to appear in the verses for reduced scoring. Similarly effective is Tenebrae factae sunt, sung according to late Roman tradition an octave lower, and thus only by men’s voices: it is powerfully beautiful and, well, tenebrous; the verse is particularly lovely. Another outstanding verse is that of O vos omnes, this time featuring the upper voices. As important as these details is the shaping of the narrative, which can be a challenge in liturgical works as concise as these, but Tenebrae is extremely attentive to this aspect of the music too, nowhere more than in Caligaverunt oculi mei, which in this context seems epic in scale.

Competition is strong in this field: there are fine recordings by The Sixteen, by The Tallis Scholars, by Westminster Cathedral Choir and, most particularly, by Pro Cantione Antiqua under Bruno Turner. It is this last that always seems to me to penetrate to the essence of this extraordinary music in a way that no other recording has managed to do. However, Tenebrae and Short bring their own vision to these remarkable pieces — which is, interestingly, somewhere between a choral vision, such as that of The Tallis Scholars, and a chamber one, such as that of Pro Cantione Antiqua — with conviction and in a recording that is outstanding for its clarity.  
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