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His anniversary may be over but, to paraphrase Johnson, ‘he who is tired of Victoria is tired of life’. Nevertheless I have to confess to some moments of weariness during this 10-CD marathon. It is, by any measurement, a magnificent achievement: focusing on Victoria’s Madrid years, Noone offers an overview of the mature composer through the widest range of his output, from alternatim hymns and psalms to motets in all shapes and sizes, and no fewer than ten Masses. Some works are recorded for the first time and, though there are details about all the editions, the first frustration creeps in when one can find no specific list of these premieres. Other academic aspects of the project are exemplary including, for example, performance practice such as the scoring of Missa Laetatus sum with brass, and other treatments that reveal Victoria the proto-baroque composer. The performances expose the very bones of the music and the set makes excellent reference material for students; it is, moreover, astonishingly good value.

Noone employs the smallest possible number of voices – fewer, even, than Victoria probably had at his disposal and, in spite of their individual accomplishments, there is a consonant want of warmth. The soundworld is very British, über-musical, lofty and elegant, and though there’s plenty of expression, it occasionally feels facile, like the most superior variety of sight-reading. Several venues are used and the acoustics of the Cambridge church in CDs 1, 2, 3, 4 & 6 are a tad too cool to help with these issues; there’s a greater glow in the recording quality and acoustics for discs 9 and 10.

There are some exquisitely judged tempi in the Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae (disc 2), and it is here that these interpretations come closer to the type of peculiarly Spanish devotional intensity I would love to have found throughout. On the whole, though, I would look to other choral interpreters for greater spiritual depth; so it’s not surprising, perhaps, that the most memorable discovery for me in this entire anthology was Giovanni Battista Bovicelli’s virtuosic reworking of Vadam et circuibo civitatem, sung with admirable technique and style by Clare Wilkinson.

REBECCA TAVENER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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