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Passion and Intensity

Vocal music by Gesualdo,
reviewed by

Apex    2564 62782-2

Gesualdo: Tenebrae Responsories; Benedictus; Miserere. A Sei Voci. © 2007 Warner Classics

There are not many complete CD sets of Gesualdo's Tenebrae Responses in the catalogue. Perhaps groups shy away from the remarkable formal severity of the works or maybe it is the sheer startling bravura of Gesualdo's harmonic language; not to mention the simple difficulty of performing these pieces well.

Whatever the reason, the few versions currently in the catalogue are all very strong contenders. The Hilliard Ensemble have recorded the complete Responses for ECM. Their fine sense of line and grave beauty would make them my favourite choice. The Kings Singers have recorded the Responses for Maundy Thursday, giving a rather more extrovert reading than the Hilliards. The Taverner Consort seem to have only recorded the Good Friday set, but they have the virtue of being the most Italianate of the three.

And this is where the choice gets difficult, as none of the recent Italian groups seem to have essayed these tricky works. So if you want to hear the pieces sung in a more Italianate, less cool English manner, then you need to try this disc from Bernard Fabre-Garrus' group A Sei Voci [listen -- CD1 track 1, 0:00-1:13].

They recorded the pieces in the 1980s and this is not the first time they have been re-issued. The two disc set also includes Gesualdo's Miserere [listen -- CD1 Track 10, 0:00-1:12] and the Benedictus.

Gesualdo wrote the Responses towards the end of his life, for performance in a private chapel, so we do not need to expect a large scale performance. These are searing pieces in which the dissonances and dramatisations of Gesualdo's harmonic language serve to emphasise the expiatory quality of the pieces.

A Sei Voci make a very distinctive sound [listen -- CD1 track 13, 0:00-1:04]. There is no doubt about their passion and intensity, but each voice is very distinctive and the ensemble comes over as very much six individual voices. The upper voices in particular also have a tendency to shape (or squeeze) individual notes rather than phrasing them in paragraphs. This left me feeling that the performance lacked the sense of line that I would like in this music. I would certainly counsel listening to this disc before you buy it. This disc is not ideal, but it certainly fills a gap for the moment.

Copyright © 23 December 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


Gesualdo: Tenebrae Responsories

2564 62782-2 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE (2 CDs) 62'03"/68'12" - TT 130'15" 2007 Warner Classics

A Sei Voci (Gaël de Kerret, cantus (Feria Quinta, Sabbato Sancto); Alain Zaepffel, cantus (Feria Sexta); Rachid Safir, sextus; Régis Oudot, altus; Philippe Balloy, quintus; Bernard Fabre-Garrus, tenor; Bernard Dehont, bassus

Carlo Gesualdo (1561-1613): Responses for Maundy Thursday (Feria Quinta); Miserere (Psalm 50); Responses for Good Friday (Feria Sexta); Benedictus (Canticle of Zachariah); Responses for Holy Saturday (Sabbato Sancto)


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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular series of shorter CD reviews