Founded in 2011, De Profundis is a Cambridge-based male-voice ensemble. This Hyperion recording under Robert Hollingworth (one of the group’s peripatetic conductors) focuses on Sebastián de Vivanco (c.1551-1622) a contemporary of Tomás Luis de Victoria, whose career reached its highest fulfilment in 1602 at Salamanca Cathedral where he was appointed as Maestro. This compilation brings together a parody Mass, a handful of Motets and an extended setting of the Magnificat, the whole given intermittent anchorage by a bajón – a Spanish form of dulcian. It’s an intriguing addition considering the sizeable ensemble of twenty-five voices, for which Bruno Turner’s booklet note provides no explanation, and nothing to suggest whether its use is speculative or based on historic practice.
The first twelve tracks (including an “Introit” and a “Dismissal”) present a re-imagined celebration of a Mass for the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6), including plainsong and the Eucharistic Motet ‘O sacrum convivium’ with its startling dissonances. It’s a worthy idea to place the Mass in a liturgical context creating atmosphere and vocal contrast between five-part textures and unison voices. De Profundis makes an impressive sound grounded in warm tone and mostly excellent blend: these singers have absorbed this music into their collective bloodstream even if one might occasionally wish for greater intimacy of expression and grandeur. Spaciousness, buoyancy and restraint give dramatic coherence to the ‘Sanctus’ in which Vivanco reveals an astonishing display of ingenuity in its second “Osanna”, a seven-part tour de force. The ‘Agnus Dei’comes as a surprise, both for its single entreaty and its somewhat wandering pleas for forgiveness, which Hollingworth never quite rescues from sounding dull – the composer’s fault largely, but intonation is also questionable. For those wanting to hear this Mass in a one-to-a-part version and at the original higher pitch there is Musica Reservata de Barcelona.
Hollingworth’s Motet selections reveal Vivanco at his most harmonically expressive, such as ‘Veni delicte me’ with its imagery of blossoming vines artfully worked into its contours and bearing a delicious false relation even more potent for its unexpected arrival. ‘Versa est in luctum’ subtly achieves stillness and forward momentum in a performance beautifully capturing the text’s desolation, while ‘Surge, propera, amica mea’ unfolds with gratifying poise and, at times, lightness.
Concluding is the lavish ‘Magnificat primi toni’. Its six voices expand to eight for the closing “Gloria patri” which De Profundis brings to a rousing close (tenors enjoying the syncopations) with a richly sonorous final cadence. My only quibble is with the unvarying dynamics. Otherwise, it’s a fine performance with plenty of cut and thrust. These accounts add considerably to our appreciation of this neglected composer of the Spanish Renaissance. Texts and translations are included in the booklet.