Il Cor Tristo
Applauded for programming old and new music in juxtaposition, The Hilliard Ensemble here explores the contrasted poetic spirits of Dante and Petrarch. The former’s nightmarish journey and encounters in Hell are vividly captured in Roger Marsh’s Il Cor Tristo, a 2008 setting of two cantos from Inferno. Marsh’s work is interleaved with Petrarch’s lyrical, lovelorn sonnets set by two 16th-century composers: Jacques Arcadelt, fêted in his day, and the rather more shadowy Bernardo Pisano. The whole makes for an effective sequence that offsets the fluid polyphonic style of the Renaissance madrigal with the austere recitation of Il Cor Tristo. Marsh plays to the Hilliards’ strengths, throwing individual voices into high relief with chilling declamatory passages set against a mostly homophonic texture.
The programme is driven by the emotion and drama of its texts, which the quartet articulates with urgent lucidity. One or two rougher-than-normal edges in the singing give an apt rawness to the Dante. And, as the Hilliards approach retirement after four remarkable decades, they communicate Petrarch’s reflective, valedictory words with poignant sincerity. ECM’s reverberant sound is perhaps rather too churchy for these secular works, though it lets the voices soar and the haunting texts resonate.