Harmonies of heaven and earth

A concert of music for voices performed by luminatus vocal ensemble

Harmonies of heaven and earth

CD review

O Beata Virgo Maria – Review by Laudate Magazine

“O Beata Virgo Maria is a fine disc with much to appeal to lovers of a cappella mixed-voice ensembles”

O Beata Virgo Maria – Review by Laudate Magazine


The singing is wonderful. luminatus (they prefer an initial lower-case letter) is a ‘small, but flexible group’ who specialise in little-known Renaissance music and in contemporary repertoire. This disc (73 minutes) is an excellent showcase for their a cappella sound, with its selection of previously unrecorded works from both their favoured musical domains.

The Renaissance repertoire begins with Luca Marenzio’s motet Iste sanctus pro lege and his contemporary Francisco Guerrero’s mass of the same name. The Programme Note does not point out the thematic connection between the two works, even separating the comments on Marenzio and Guerrero. However, the attentive listener will probably hear what is going on – for example, if we compare the beginnings of the motet and of the Kyrie.

The disc takes its name from the next motet, Tiburtio Massaino’s large-scale O Beata Virgo Maria (about 16 minutes, in six large sections or partes). Massaino (pre-1550 to post-1608) was an Augustinian monk, who worked in or visited a wide variety of locations including Rome, Salzburg and Prague. He was a prolific composer, but relatively little of his music has been recorded: O Beata is likely to inspire lovers of Renaissance music to explore more. Listeners may wish to visit https://www.prestomusic.com/classical/composers/5357–massaino to see else what is currently available.

Three women composers are represented in the remaining (five) tracks (again all a cappella): these contain Evening Canticles by Melissa Dunphy and by Cecilia MacDowall, and a very attractive and ambitious setting of Alma redemptoris mater by Kerensa Briggs (the mezzo solo being sung by Hannah Littleton).

McDowall’s five-part St Pancras Canticles were composed for the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music in 2017. They are impressive, although with a Magnificat lasting nine minutes and a Nunc Dimittis at nearly six they may serve more frequently as concert pieces or as devotional listening than in the context of Choral Evensong.

Dunphy’s setting entitled for St Paul’s Burlingame (at just over 10 minutes in total) was commissioned quite recently ‘to celebrate the life of Marcia McCowin’ and was first heard at the church in California after which it is named. The ending of the Gloria was for me one of the highlights. The Programme Note aptly characterises the work as ‘often modal’, with references to ‘a mood of calm contemplation’ and to tranquillity punctuated by more intense moments.

To sum up, O Beata Virgo Maria is a fine disc with much to appeal to lovers of a cappella mixed-voice ensembles. As expected with Convivium Records, production and engineering are excellent, and the artwork and design are attractive in an ecologically-friendly digipack format.

Hugh Benham

Review written by:

Hugh Benham

Review published in:

Laudate Magazine

Harmonies of heaven and earth

Cipriano de Rore (1515-1565) Ad te levavi oculos meos

Philippe de Monte (1521-1603) Kyrie Missa Ad te levavi oculos meos

Pedro de Cristo (1545-1618) O Magnum Mysterium

Philippe de Monte (1521-1603) Gloria Missa Ad te levavi oculos meos

Ippolito Baccusi (1550-1609) Salve regina

Philippe de Monte (1521-1603) Benedictus and Sanctus Missa Ad te levavi oculos meos

Sebastian de Vivanco (1551-1622) O Domine Jesu Christe

Philippe de Monte (1521-1603) Agnus Dei Missa Ad te levavi oculos meos

Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623) ‘O Lord arise’

William Byrd (1540-1623) Ave Maria

Melissa Dunphy (b1980) Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for St Paul’s Burlingame

Ghislaine Reece-Trapp (b1992) ‘Mass for the mystery of faith’

Eleanor Daley (b1955) ‘O ye who taste that love is sweet’


The Bach St John Passion

The St John Passion was written during Bach’s first year as director of church music in Leipzig and first performed in 1724, at Good Friday vespers at the St Nicholas Church.

The piece falls into two halves, probably intended to flank a sermon. The libretto narrates the story of the passion as told in the St John gospel. The emotional impact is enhanced by a series of arias which reflect on the story. A series of chorales and choruses add to the drama,

Bach revised the piece in 1725, 1730, and 1749, adding several movements, and some of this material subsequently appeared in the St Matthew Passion.

The travels and music of Tiburtio Massaino


Massaino was probably born in Cremona around 1550. Little else is known about the Massaino family, except that he had a brother named Luke, head of the Venetian soldiers in Crete. Massaino entered the Augustinian order of the Aelongsian Eremitani, probably in the Piacenza convent of Santa Lorenzo at a young age and by 1571 was in Rome, in charge of the musicorum praefectus in Santa Maria del Popolo. Massaino appears to have met Paolo Orsini in Venice, as well as two other Augustinian musicians, Ludovico Zacconi and Ippolito Baccusi. In 1579 he was commissioned to curate a collection of madrigals to celebrate the wedding of Bianca Capello and Francesco de’ Medici. This included pieces by Massaino, as well as Claudio Merulo, Baldassarre Donati, Orazio Vecchi, Philippe de Monte and Alessandro Striggio. In the following years the Massaino worked in the Venetian Republic and then the Duchy of Milan at Lodi. In 1580 he produced a second book of the Sacri cantus quinque paribus vocibus. During the middle of 1585 he was given a three year contract as master of the chapel of the cathedral of Salò. The contract, however, was dissolved in advance, and Massaino temporarily went to Constantinople.

In mid-1587 he published a third book of madrigals for five voices and the Secundus liber missarum quinque vocibus. He then seems to have worked in Salzburg as a cantor and master of chapel music at the court of Archduke Ferdinand II. Massaino was accused of having attempted to attract singers from Innsbruck to Salzburg and, in October 1591, was also accused of sodomy and given a prison sentence. Massaino travelled to Prague where he met, amongst others, Philippe de Monte and dedicated to him the Liber primus cantionum ecclesiasticarum. He subsequently appears to have struggled to find a permanent job and returned to Italy, where he worked in Cremona. In the years 1598-99 he was a choirmaster in Piacenza. Around 1600 he took on a similar assignment at the cathedral of Lodi, but after 1609 there is no news of his location.

In his lifetime Massaino travelled very widely and published thirty four musical collections, a large number compared to contemporary composers. He came into contact with a wide range of music, and this is reflected within a music which extended towards an early Baroque style. He wrote numerous sacred pieces, as well as a large collection of madrigals and two sets of canzonas. The O Beata Virgo Maria is a setting of a text which uses a sermon of Fulbert of Chartres. It has six distinct sections, which utilise a range of vocal forces.

New CD released February 2024

Our new CD, O Beata Virgo Maria, features previously unrecorded music by Tiburtio Massaino, Francesco Guerrero, Cecilia McDowall, Melissa Dunphy and Kerensa Briggs.

Much of the repertoire has a Marian theme and includes a setting of O Beata Virgo Maria by Massaino. This is in six sections, with shifts in vocal forces, texture and style. It is based on an original text by Fulbert of Chartres. You can see a glimpse of the first section here:

You can purchase the CD here.