Early Music America, Summer 2007

Beth Adelman

Lionheart - El Siglo De Oro:  Chant and Polyphony of Renaissance Spain

Koch KIC-CD-7676 - 60:08 minutes

I can't think of another group that sings chant as lyrically as Lionheart. On so many other programs of chant and polyphony, you find yourself waiting for the group to get past the chant, which sounds so thin, so you can hear the "good stuff." But everything is the good stuff when these six men sing.

This CD features the Missa Ave Maria of Cristobal de Morales (c.1500-1553) interspersed with motets from Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) and Gregorian chants for the Feast of the Annunciation from a 1557 choral book printed in Salamanca. The motets are almost all in Spanish. It's a surprising sound for the ears because this is, in many ways, music straight out of the Roman tradition. (Guerrero was closely associated with the cathedral in his native Seville, but published much of his music in Italy. Both composers wrote for the Papal choir.)

What makes this Lionheart performance so good? Start with the basics: articulation, blend, balance, tone, timing, changes in rhythm and tempo (often difficult ones, because these are, after all, Spanish composers). They sing with a great sensitivity to the text. And then there are the intangibles. The voices are rich, lush, innately musical - all without the kind of emoting that would be inappropriate in this context. There is a complexity of sound in even the most simple, straightforward works - a complexity that makes you want to listen again and again.

Lionheart is represented exclusively by Bernstein Artists and records for Koch International.

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