Vocal ensembles are a growth industry in England, where a long and distinguished choral tradition has meshed nicely with the renewed interest in early music. On Sunday evening, Magnificat made its Los Angeles debut at St. Vincent de Paul Church with a fascinating look at Iberian Renaissance sacred music for Chamber Music in Historic Sites.
Founded in 1991, Magnificat is a flexibly voiced group, here numbering 10 singers plus conductor Philip Cave. They sang with great verve and freedom over a solid foundation of impeccable diction and bright, open choral sound. Latin seems very much a living language for them, one consisting of actual words rather than merely mellifluous vocalises.
These qualities were immediately apparent in the austere and sophisticated, but hardly inexpressive, second Requiem by Tomas Luis de Victoria. Cave shaped an articulate and compelling reading, diving into the word painting with special glee, particularly in the Offertory and the "Libera me."
That work is one of the monuments of the Spanish golden age, but Cave also paid rare and welcome attention to Portuguese contemporaries. Joa~o Rebelo was represented by a striking and florid "Panis angelicus" and Duarte Lo^bo by a more quietly dramatic "Audivi vocem."
More demonstrative still was the music of transplanted Flemish composer Phillipe Rogier. Three motets revealed an outgoing spirit much inclined to bright colors when it came to word painting, but also a craftsman as accomplished in technique as he was extravagant in emotion.
The well-rounded and contrasting program closed with three Marian motets by Victoria and Francisco Guerrero. Cave and his small chorus spun sustained wonders of supple phrasing and clean textures, supported with sound of clarion purity.