Magnificats & Motets

Vandals could not entirely silence Bernardino de Ribera. The maestro de capilla of Toledo Cathedral in Spain at the height of the Counter-Reformation, Ribera saw his works gathered in 1570 into a magnificent volume of 159 parchment folios, its pages enhanced by lavishly embellished initials. The decorations proved nearly fatal. In the 18th century, a rapacious admirer sliced out the illuminated initials and even removed some entire pages, leaving big holes in the music. Many pieces were mutilated beyond recapture, but musicologists have reconstructed some of the works by comparing missing passages with roughly analogous sections that survive unharmed and, most fortunately, by identifying some of these pieces in a set of ancient choral parts in a library in Valencia. Ribera does not show the breadth of his most famous pupil, Tomás Luis de Victoria, but he was nonetheless a master of the luxurious line, proceeding with a linear contrapuntal sound rooted in the style of Josquin and the Franco-Flemish school. He sometimes injects highly expressive turns; in the motet Rex autem David, King David laments the loss of Absalom, his son, with a heart-rending chromatic descent. Ribera here gets 77 minutes of overdue fame in dark-hued interpretations by De Profundis, a 25-member male chorus (singing at a historically likely low pitch) based in Cambridge, England, and solidly directed by David Skinner.