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--Don Carlo Gesualdo--
Gesualdo is a unique composer in many ways. He was a prince of Venosa, and given to courtly intrigues. His first wife was unfaithful to him - he had her murdered, along with her lover. He later remarried while at the court of the Duke of Ferrara. He was much given to popular music and madrigals, and was accomplished on the lute. He lived much of his life in Naples, developing a very individual madigral style, and becoming known for some sacred compositions, too. As passionate as Gesualdo's life and actions were, so too was his musical style, which remained nonetheless in many ways old fashioned.
Motets (in this sense) are choral settings of Latin religious texts, generally in four to six voiced parts, sometimes more. There are four Marian motets here, which show power and passion, but at the same time balance in composition.
Tenebrae Responsories are liturgical pieces set for the darkness of events in Holy Week - here the collection is from the liturgy for Holy Saturday. The words are powerful and full of emotion, and Gesualdo plays with the overall mood by taking the tact that mood might change word by word. Gesualdo experiments, as sometimes bass voice parts may overtake sopranos, or melodies may make dramatic jumps up and down entire octave spans. Rhythm and harmony can be quickly distorted, but all to interesting and fulfilling effect.
Being internationally acclaimed, the Tallis Scholars' CDs typically present their commentary and texts in English, French, German and Italian (together with any Latin texts); that is true of this disc. The cover art also typically represents visual arts contemporary with the compositions - here it is a Caravaggio, The Deposition, from the Vatican collections.
--The Tallis Scholars--
The Tallis Scholars, a favourite group of mine since the first time I heard them decades ago, are a group dedicated to the performance and preservation of the best of this type of music. A choral group of exceptional ability, I have been privileged to see them many times in public, and at almost every performance, their singing seems almost like a spiritual epiphany for me, one that defies explanation in words. Directed by Peter Phillips, the group consists of a small number of male and female singers who have trained themselves well to their task.
Their recordings are of a consistent quality that deserve more than five stars; this particular disc of pieces by Gesualdo deserves a place on the shelf of anyone who loves choral music, liturgical music or Gregorian chant, classical music generally, or religious music. It is truly remarkable. The music on this disc was originally recorded in 1987 at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Norfolk.