Michael Noone

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Cristobal Morales
Morales en Toledo — 2005

“My story begins with an invitation I received in 2002 from the distinguished canon-archivist of Toledo Cathedral to study a previously inaccessible and seriously damaged polyphonic manuscript. After months of painstaking examination of this parchment choirbook, known as Codex 25, I was able to establish without doubt that it contained 20 works by Morales, of which at least 14 were either completely or virtually unknown.” None of the 14 works on this disc has ever been previously recorded. Eleven of them come from the newly rediscovered Codex 25, while three others have been recovered from Toledo’s Codex 21 and Codex 16.
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Reviews

“Michael Noone offers us, without doubt, one of the most interesting cultural projects carried out in recent years in Spain. Noone’s wise direction marks the Ensemble Plus Ultra in its CD debut as one of the most solid and prestigious international Early Music groups.” Francisco de Paula Cañas Gálvez, Diverdi March, 2005

“The singers of the Plus Ultra ensemble give pristine, beautifully blended readings.” Sunday Times, April 3, 2005

“This is a very fine recording. We have here superlative stylish performances…the extensive and excellent notes by Michael Noone begin with a succinct biography of Morales…the presence of the facsimiles is one more sign of the care that has gone into this excellent and highly recommended project.” Early Music Review, April 2005

"a crack choir...breathtakingly beautiful...you couldn't ask for cleaner, clearer performances..." BBC Radio 3, CD Reviews, April 2, 2005

“There’s a palpable sense of occasion about this recording. From the first bars you can tell that there’s something special going on. The recording itself is a model of its kind, with just the right amount of space and audible acoustic around the voices. The singing is deeply satisfying: on the one hand sonorous and beautifully blended so that the contrapuntal detail is lucid throughout all sections of the choir, and yet the expressive range is tellingly restricted—as it should be in this repertory—which makes you listen all the harder and effectively draws you further into the music…It’s good to know that all this is built on firm scholarly foundations, but in the end it’s the powerful combination of an intellectually aware choir and luminous singing which makes this disc such a treasure in its own right.” Simon Heighes, International Record Review, May 2005, p. 67.

“…one of the sensations of recent renaissance musicology; now, equally sensational, Noone and his ensemble have taken the next step and released a CD of this newly-discovered music…And the singing is just spectacular. Noone and his people seem to have a feel for the mid-sixteenth century like no one else I have ever heard. In short, feel free to buy this CD for the musicology; I promise you'll end up listening to it for the music and the musicianship.”  Ken Kreitner, Amazon.com online review, June 2005

‘for once the much-misused marketing label ‘world première recording’ is actually justified…so Noone’s discovery really is something to celebrate.…the music is often deeply involving, and on a purely musical level the value of Noone’s finds is beyond question…contrapuntally intricate and wonderfully expressive.' Fabrice Fitch, Gramophone, September  2005

‘Both performance and recording do full justice to the music. The heavenly acoustic of St Jude-on-the-hill in London creates a fine sense of spaciousness without veiling the Ensemble’s glorious transparency in contrapuntal lines, and their shimmering sonority of immaculate tuning on sustained cadential chords. The voices, fresh and uncluttered, create distinctive, independent lines in polyphony, from the dark, relatively low register of ‘Et factum est’ (track 3) to the alternating monophonic chant and high-voiced counterpoint of the Palm Sunday hymn ‘Gloria laus et honor’ (track 9). An essential addition to any collection of Renaissance sacred polyphony.’ George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine, September 2005

"Quite the opposite impression [from that of the boring and badly sung CD 'Virgo Maria' by Consortium Carissimi, Gaudeamus CDGAU 343] is given by Michael Noone's Ensemble Plus Ultra . Noone has been working in the archives of Toledo cathedral for several years, and has made some of the most exciting recent discoveries in Renaissance music as a result. In Morales en Toledo: Polifonía inédita del Códice 25 1545-1547 (Glossa GCD 922001) music from a manuscript previously thought lost is presented, painstakingly re-edited by Noone himself, as his extensive liner notes (as well as several conference papers) make clear. Ensemble Plus Ultra consists of a crack squad of the finest British early music singers, and this is a truly splendid release: the opening Asperges me is simply breathtaking." Stephen Rice, Early Music Today (November 2005)

Michael Noone has spent some time studying the Toledo Codex 25, a badly damaged manuscript copied in 1546 and 1549, and two years ago presented a concert at the Cuenca Festival at which he performed for the first time nine sacred works from this source, all but one included on this disc. It was the first public appearance of this vocal ensemble. The publication of an edition followed later that year. Noone’s research attributes 20 of these works to Cristóbal de Morales, 14 of which were previously unknown, and the music on this disc is dated 1545–47, the time of Morales’s tenure there. Three pieces on this disc are taken from two other Toledo manuscripts of the same years, and all are first recordings. The chants used within the polyphony are taken from Toledo chant books made by the same copyist.

The lamentation is the first one for Tenebrae, also set by Ceballos in another disc just heard. Both composers began their settings with the Prolog of the Book of Lamentations, omitted after the Council of Trent. Most of the other pieces are hymns of the Office, alternating chant with polyphony…this disc offers splendid a cappella singing. The recording was made in London last year. The disc certainly enlarges our appreciation of Morales, always regarded as a leading light of El Siglo de Oro.  J. F. Weber, Fanfare (Jan/Feb 2006) Issue 29:3 (Jan/Feb 2006)

All in all, the recovery of this corpus of works from Toledo Cathedral has been one of the most significant endeavours undertaken in Iberian musicological research today…deeply musical performances…A fabulous five-voice set of Lamentations…is arguably one of the composer’s finest works, heard here for the first time in a deeply affecting performance.

This ‘Morales Vespers’ deserves to be listened to in more than one sitting. Each item requires individual attention and focus, and the listener’s appreciation will be enhanced by taking account of the historical and contextual details explained so meticulously in the booklet. Noone’s intimate relationship with Morales’s music, and the intelligent and musical response of Ensemble Plus Ultra , is apparent thoughout. With a name such as Plus Ultra, Charles V’s famous Imperial motto, what could be more fitting than a CD devoted to exploration and discovery, and the revelation of uncharted worlds of polyphony?” Bernadette Nelson, Early Music, February 2006

“Noone has taken extreme care with the balance of the voices at every point in every work, and motives and ornamental figuration claim their share of attention when they need to be noticed. Much of this has to do with the singing, which at the same time is expressive and unmannered…the great Spanish conductor Ángel Recansens told a seminar that listening to a recording was like seeing a photograph of a statue, while hearing a live performance was like seeing the statue ‘in the flesh’. In this recording Noone and his singers happily come very close to producing a hologram of that statue.” Alejandro Enrique Planchart, Musicology Australia 28 (2005-6) 156-7
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