Operaworld – March 26th, 2020 – Germán García Tomás

The world of polyphony is in luck with El León de Oro. This choir, emerged in the Asturian town of Luanco, is one of the vocal ensembles that can be fairly placed next to the most internationally renowned in the field of sacred polyphony. With more than 20 years of life, and led by the expert hand of its founder Marco Antonio García de Paz, their young voices, scrupulously chosen for each repertoire they interpret, have earned a place in the programming, not only at the local level of their Asturias native, but in the rest of Spain and outside our borders. Currently, this artistic project is multiple, since the adult choir is joined by a female youth choir and a children’s choir.

A conductor as veteran as the British Peter Phillips, founder of the choir The Tallis Scholars, has been interested in the privileged vocal material of a choir that comes to become a referential bet on polyphony, placing itself alongside other Spanish ensembles of the same specialization as for example Musica Ficta led by the also Asturian Raúl Mallavibarrena, just to mention one of the most emblematic. And it is that in this recital debut on the Hyperion label, a whole exercise in coral sublimation, El León de Oro exhibits his best credentials under the command of the English master. Recorded in 2016 in the Church of Santiago el Mayor de Sariego, Amarae Morti is an irresistible record work that tilts through some of the best polyphony samples from the Iberian Peninsula, Holland and Italy, with the inescapable figures of Tomás Luis de Victoria y Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina beating all over the record. But it is that in addition to the Regina coeli to 7 of the Avila and the Magnificat to 8 of the Italian that we find here, we are discovered other notable figures of the Renaissance, such as Dominique Phinot, Nicolas Gombert and Manuel Cardoso.

In a very careful intention to include music from the liturgical period of Lent and Easter, we find firstly the Incipit oratio Jeremiae prophetae of Phinot, which is connected with the other Lamentations of Jeremiah summarized, the Lamentatio tertia, primi diei of Orlando di Lasso and Lamentatio Feria fifth in Coena Domini by Portuguese Cardoso. Two versions of one of the most moving penitential texts, Media vita, are inserted between this exercise in drama and a certain theatricality that lamentations entail, of which we hear the two versions, each more serene and pleading, by Lasso and Gombert not at all exclusive, but authentically complementary. The chapter dedicated to the Marian antiphon of Easter Regina coeli has as cultivators of that text, in addition to Victoria, Lasso himself and Cristóbal de Morales. The recital closes with the serene musicalization of the psalm Laudate pueri due to Palestrina, the only one who came to compose of all the Vespers psalms, as Phillips correctly points out in the documented notes to the album.

It would be impossible to highlight one piece above another in this excellent recital of the most beautiful and encouraging sacred music, conceived only for the enjoyment and relaxation of all the senses, not just the ears. The Asturian choir performs a commendable job under Peter Phillips, achieving an impeccable cleanliness in the textures, an immaculate sound and a song without roughness or roughness, aerial and of extreme containment and balance. The homogeneity and filling of the entire ensemble achieves authentic interpretive milestones such as the Media vita motets, clad in just progression, internal tension and painful expression, or the solemnity associated with the different Regina coeli. Magisterial is also the climate achieved in the lamentations, deliciously expressive and pleading, or the majesty of the Magnificat, pieces all of which make this first work of El León de Oro its best letter of introduction as one of the first-class Spanish corals and from which we are already looking forward to his second recording foray into this much-needed world of Renaissance polyphony.