Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Q Sings Victoria's Tenebrae Responsories

Tenebrae Hearse at Blackfriars

The ceremonies of Holy Week rank among the most memorable of the liturgical year. In the texts of the liturgy, themes of betrayal, abandonment, dejection, love and death commingle, as the Church contemplates – through His own eyes – the sufferings of Jesus Christ, from the Garden of Gethsemane to the horrors of a death by crucifixion on Calvary, before commemorating his resurrection, the triumph over all suffering and death, on Easter Sunday. The rich emotions conveyed by these texts have proven to be a source of inspiration to many important composers from the sixteenth century onward. The Office of Tenebrae – that is, Matins and Lauds of the last three days of Holy Week, which had been anticipated on the preceding evening – is a liturgical masterpiece. It was for this setting that Tomas Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611) composed settings of eighteen Tenebrae Responsories. The skilful use of word-painting in these works is testimony of a craftsman who not only deeply meditated upon the texts he set, but who, inspired by the encroaching shadows and darkness of Tenebrae (the Latin word for ‘darkness’) captured their emotional essence.

Australian vocal ensemble Q has released what is probably the only available recording of all the Tenebrae Responsories by a lower-voice vocal ensemble. Transposed down such that the highest voice is a countertenor, the beautiful, dark qualities of Victoria’s musical writing come to the fore in this sensitive and personal interpretation.

Q continues a tradition of singing the Tenebrae Responsories that can be traced back to the establishment of the St. Mary’s Cathedral Choir in the Archdiocese of Perth in 1938, when the newly-ordained Fr. Albert Lynch – recently returned from Rome where he had studied at Propaganda Fide – introduced Renaissance polyphony at the Cathedral. The ensemble is unique in Australia – and the only one of its type in the Archdiocese of Perth – both for the repertoire that it sings (most of which is liturgical, and includes less-well-known composers alongside Palestrina, Victoria and the Gregorian repertoire) and the relative youth of its members. Where many of their contemporaries have focused on repertoire that is perhaps less suitable for liturgical use, Q has increased awareness and appreciation of the Church’s liturgical music among West Australian Catholics of all ages by singing it within its proper liturgical context.

The CD is available – with sound samples – at MySpace.

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