Above: the Victoria Consort at Winchelsea Church. Photo by Kt Bruce.
Following on my recent theme of good news and the positive effects of entrepreneurial Catholicism so often seen in traditional circles, I bring you The Victoria Consort. Conducted by Ben Bevan, this group of talented British singers hails from around Kent. Initially established to provide music for the Tridentine Rite in 2008, the group has rapidly grown to draw in high quality amateur and professional singers, resulting in a formidable choir indeed. While their main mission remains to provide music for the Mass of the Ages, the Victoria Consort has branched out into wider performances, festivals, and recordings. Their newest recording, “Salve Sancta Parens,” explores the newly discovered music of the Italian Catholic hermit Sebastiano da Fabriano, whose religious work, publishing efforts, and music seem to have taken place from the 1570s until his death in 1620. This, along with other rediscovered and reconstructed works on this disc, have not been sung for centuries.
The album begins with the title work of this effort, Fabriano’s mass setting Missa Salve Sancte Parens. While Fabriano himself apparently made apologies for his inexperience as a composer, the six voice mass here resurrected is a gem of polyphony and a worthy addition to the patrimony of well-recorded Renaissance works. Partially reconstructed through the scholarship and work of Francis Bevan, it here receives a rousing rendition from the Victoria Consort, whose color, blend, and musicianship represent the highest levels of the British choral tradition. The fact that this wonderful singing is combined with the significant musicological and compositional sleuthing to unearth these ancient works – and in some cases, complete missing sections of – only adds to the wonder of this particular project.
The texture of six voice polyphony is beautifully contrasted with a stark chanted monophonic Ave Maria drawn from the Intonarium Tolentanum, a manuscript from around 1515 that may have been used at Evora. After this a rather sunny polyphonic motet – Ave Maria Domina – by Pedro Perianez is placed within the context of the mass.
We continue with the Sanctus and Agnus Dei from the Fabriano mass. The Sanctus may be the highlight of the rediscovered mass, being the more somber and moody outlier of this particular setting.
Following the conclusion of the Fabriano mass, an ancient anonymously composed 7 voice Salve Regina – taken from the aforementioned Evora manuscript – is included on the album. It too is a real highlight of the disc and perhaps the most harmonically daring of the pieces on this recording. The album concludes with a nod to the great master of the era, Palestrina, and a luminously rendered performance of a less frequently heard Magnificat.
In the final analysis, there is something particularly moving about the sound of English voices singing the music of the Italian and Spanish Renaissance. More than once the skilled sopranos of Bevan’s choir soared gloriously over copiously prepared contrapuntal textures, while the group showed a deep understanding of the material they were performing. Doubtless The Victoria Consort represent one of the most accomplished mass-oriented choirs in the west, and our readers would do well to support their efforts to adorn the Mass with glorious music by purchasing this album.
And now, for a limited time, our readers will receive a 20% discount by entering the code “1peter5” at the website.
Dr. Mark Nowakowski is a scholar and composer whose music has been performed internationally and released on the Gramophone-praised Naxos Records album, “Blood, Forgotten.” His writings on Catholicism, music, aesthetics, and music technology appear in numerous publications regularly, while he also maintains an active schedule as a composer and professor of music. A proud native of Chicago, he currently lives with his wife and three children in Ohio.