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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

Latin American Baroque music is now a well-trodden path but 16th-century repertoire from the New World is still largely terra incognita. Back in the 1990s The Hilliard Ensemble sent us a musical postcard (‘Spain & the New World’ – Virgin/Erato, 4/92, 11/97) and before that James O’Donnell and the Westminster Cathedral Choir explored the rich colours of Mexico (‘Masterpieces of Mexican Polyphony’ – Hyperion, 12/90), but beyond that glimpses are few. Now The Queen’s Six add their impressions to the picture with ‘Journeys to the New World’ – sacred works that take us from Avila, Seville and Toledo to Mexico City, Guatemala and Puebla.

It’s a lovely selection of motets, luring listeners in with the familiar – Alonso Lobo’s Versa est in luctum, Victoria’s O quam gloriosum and Guerrero’s exquisite Trahe me post te – before venturing further from the path in works by Hernando Franco, Francisco López Capillas and Miguel Matheo de Dallo y Lana. There’s an easy ebb and flow to the group’s delivery, phrasing softening the sterner contours of Franco’s alternatim Salve regina with its sober opening and monumental climax and filling out the lean outlines of López’s disquieting In horrore visionis, alto lines grasping upwards like hands out of the darkness in this nightmare vision from the Book of Job.

The singers are at their best though in more sumptuous settings – the lingering suspensions of Lobo’s Versa est in luctum (set here against Padilla’s setting of the same text, more affirmative, less yearning) as well as Morales’s glowing, six-voice Regina caeli. Moments of light and energy set so much intricate musical carving into relief, offered by López’s triple-time Tantum ergo, imitative voices pealing like bells, and (from the later end of the disc’s time-period) Dallo y Lana’s lively Laudate Dominum, glancing ahead to the 18th century in its harmonies.

Sensitive and well-balanced, alert to textural variety and anchored by a spacious bass line, this is superb singing. The grainy alto tone won’t be to everyone’s taste but it’s the only grit in this haul of gold from the New World.


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