Fans of Renaissance choral music, when they think of Spain, probably think of composers like Thomás Luis de Victoria, or Cristobal de Morales. But before either of them was Francisco de Peñalosa. Several of his works are featured on the latest CD by New York Polyphony, called Lamentationes, on the BIS label. Bass Craig Phillips says he had a great reputation, and one of the best church jobs a composer could have, but because Peñalosa wasn’t published or distributed, much of his music has been unheard for centuries.
There’s more information about the recording at the New York Polyphony website.
“Peñalosa’s music does not appear in manuscripts outside of Spain,” Phillips says. “The rep that we recorded only exists in two manuscripts at Tarazona Cathedral. So his music was not distributed, and it was very much overshadowed by the Franco-Flemish contemporaries like Josquin des Pres, and Pierre De la Rue.” They came across the two Lamentations that appear on this disc (of three) in a scholarly work by an Australian musicologist. “We started building it into our programs and developed a deep affection for it. It’s exquisite music, and we’re very happy to be – we think – the first group to perform these pieces in hundreds of years, but for sure the first to record them… You are kind of liberated with a piece that hasn’t been done over and over again, because you’re not bound to this notion that musicians, especially with the historical performance practice, of falling into the ‘this is how this goes’ trap.” There are also three movements from his L’Homme armé mass. “We knew it existed, but we hadn’t sung it and it’s very very florid. Some real forward looking thinking, writing on Peñalosa’s part… The contrapuntal writing is kind of spare, but you wouldn’t know it to hear it. Which is really strange. There’s a real economy to Peñalosa’s writing. That it sounds much fuller than it would appear on the page. Especially if you were to hear this in a live setting, we often get a comment that they can’t believe that it’s just the four of us in a piece like this, because it’s so sonorous. But at the same time that there’s a real… There’s not a wasted note, let’s just say.”