Gesualdo - Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday; Tallis - Lamentations
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Cat No: CDA68348
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 4th March 2022
WorksWatch with me
Lamentations of Jeremiah I
Christus factus est
ArtistsThe Gesualdo Six
1Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah I: 1. Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae
2Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah I: 3. Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo
3Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah I: 5. Plorans ploravit in nocte
4Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah I: 6. Jerusalem, Jerusalem
5Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah II: 1. De lamentatione Jeremiae prophetae
6Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah II: 3. Migravit Juda propter afflictionem
7Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah II: 5. Omnes persecutores eius
8Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah II: 7. Facti sunt hostes
9Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah II: 8. Jerusalem, Jerusalem
10Bingham: Watch with me
11Gesualdo: Nocturn I - In monte Oliveti: 1. ℟ In monte Oliveti
12Gesualdo: Nocturn I - Tristis est anima mea: 1. ℟ Tristis est anima mea
13Gesualdo: Nocturn I - Ecce vidimus eum: 1. ℟ Ecce vidimus eum
14Gesualdo: Nocturn II - Amicus meus osculi: 1. ℟ Amicus meus osculi
15Gesualdo: Nocturn II - Judas mercator pessimus: 1. ℟ Judas mercator pessimus
16Gesualdo: Nocturn II - Unus ex discipulis meis: 1. ℟ Unus ex discipulis meis
17Gesualdo: Nocturn III - Eram quasi agnus innocens: 1. ℟ Eram quasi agnus innocens
18Gesualdo: Nocturn III - Una hora non potuistis: 1. ℟ Una hora non potuistis
19Gesualdo: Nocturn III - Seniores populi: 1. ℟ Seniores populi
20Ward: Christus factus est
The disc opens with a wonderfully focused performance of Tallis’s setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah which bears all the hallmarks of this ensemble’s sound: beautifully blended, with immaculate intonation and keen attention to the words and the meaning behind them, and a marvellous sense of the music’s shape. The benefits of one-to-a-part performance in this five-voice music soon becomes apparent in the immediacy of the sound, where every detail seems to tell in music of glowing transcendence even as it treats emotions of the utmost desolation. The singing of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet set by Tallis that precede each verse have a richness that suggest the opulence of illuminated letters; and how gently yet tellingly these singers underscore the delicious dissonance at the end of ‘Daleth’! These are performances of exquisite radiance but also powerful expressive impact and remarkably wide dynamic range. Each of the two parts is capped by a meltingly sensitive traversal of the final entreaty: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God’.
One of the great attractions of this disc is the way it juxtaposes near-contemporaries not usually paired on disc (Tallis and Gesualdo), emphasising telling expressive contrasts between them, while also throwing these Renaissance masterpieces into further relief with two compelling modern works. Judith Bingham’s Watch with me, originally commissioned by Westminster Abbey in 2016 to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, cleverly intersperses the first two stanzas of Wilfred Owen’s Exposure between verses from St Matthew’s Gospel. The biblical text is mostly assigned to the lower voices, while Owen’s poetry is set to a wide range of textures, including eery whispering, euphonious humming and the bell-like clarity of Guy James’s first countertenor. The result is a multi-layered evocation of loneliness and suffering spanning the centuries.
The other contemporary work here is Joanna Ward’s newly-commissioned Christus factus est, a setting of the gradual for Mass on Maundy Thursday. Employing chromatic slides between notes, rapid parlando recitation and discrete separation of syllables, this is a meditation-cum-deconstruction on the Latin text, and it is shaped most effectively, so that the overall impact is both haunting and powerful, with some marvellously telling harmonies particularly towards the end. The Gesuado Six’s mastery of intonation really brings out the impact of Ward’s music, and it should surely enter the repertoire of the more accomplished small vocal groups.
Between the pieces by Bingham and Ward comes the album’s most substantial item: Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday. These have received many outstanding recordings over the past few decades, ranging from the Hilliard Ensemble’s beautifully focussed account of the complete cycle on ECM (including Good Friday and Holy Saturday) to the astonishingly iconoclastic recent set from Graindelavoix on Glossa. But the most direct competition for this new recording is that by the King’s Singers on Signum from 2004. Where the latter include the plainsong lessons as well as the concluding polyphonic Benedictus, the Gesualdo Six sing just the nine responsories, with their complex pattern of repeated sections, and with the added bonus (as in the Tallis Lamentations) of separate tracks within each responsory.
The Gesualdo Six produce just as raptly beautiful a sound as the King’s Singers, but instead of dwelling on the music’s pained beauties they inject a feeling of urgency and drama which is uniquely persuasive. This really feels like a ‘traversal’, with an expressive arc spanning all nine pieces that would be impossible in liturgical performance but is hugely effective on a recording. These are works dating from towards the end of Gesualdo’s unhappy, tormented life as a lonely aristocrat haunted by guilt, and he drives the art of Renaissance polyphony to its absolute limits, emotionally and harmonically. Under Owain Park’s vibrant direction, the Gesualdo Six are alive to this, and produce what has to be one of the most stunning performances on disc of this devastatingly powerful music. In the first Responsory, ‘Tristis est anima mea’, it is the sheer speed and agility with which they attack the line ‘Vos fugam capietis’ that startles the listener most. At the end of the first section of ‘Ecce vidimus eum’ (as elsewhere), they really push to dynamic extremes, while brilliantly underlining the dramatic reference to Judas’s suicide in the Verse section ‘Infelix pratermisit’ of the fourth Responsory.
They also know just how to get the words out, too: try, for example, the opening of ‘Unus ex discipulis meus’. And in music of such dazzling polyphonic complexity and extremes of emotion, their fabulous blend is never at the expense of character, as witnessed in the subtly contrasted tone of the two countertenors, allowing the careful listener to distinguish between the expressively intertwined strands. Against this background, the gorgeously resonant opening chords of ‘Eram quasi innocens’ have rarely sounded quite so telling. This is a performance of immense stature and huge involvement, launched by the startling juxtaposition with Bingham’s Watch with me, and its expressive tension is sustained and intensified right to the end. If there were any doubts that Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories are some of the greatest and most profound music ever penned by human hand, this recording should lay them to rest. Urgently recommended!
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