Gaesualdo: Sacrae Cantiones (Liber secundus)

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COMPOSERS: Gesualdo
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Gaesualdo: Sacrae Cantiones (Liber secundus)
WORKS: Sacrae Cantiones (Liber secundus): Prayers for Salvation; Despair and Weeping; Peace and hope; etc
PERFORMER: Vocalconsort Berlin/James Wood
CATALOGUE NO: HMC902123

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We have three printed collections of sacred works by Gesualdo, but unfortunately one of them – this second book of Sacrae Cantiones for six and seven voices – has long been unperformable because two of its part-books are lost. James Wood, following his meticulous and convincing reconstruction of those missing parts, has now given us access to a further 20 motets by the famous ‘Prince and Murderer’.

True, some of the reconstructions – Da Pacem and Assumpta est Maria – have been greatly aided by the presence of strict canons which may be worked out, and it is these pieces that, curiously enough, produce the most calm and assured performances. Elsewhere we are treated to an amazing kaleidoscope of singing styles and choral effects: the ‘ping-pong’ jumpy counterpoint of O oriens; the passionate madrigalisms of Ardens est cor meum; the bombastic chords of Gaudeamus; and the complex, deep music of O sacrum convivium. Sometimes the brisk pace neutralises the harmonic colour (in Discedite, one almost misses the startling B major chord at ‘qui operamini’), or it blurs the texture (as with the skidding runs at the end of Veni creator). But this world premiere recording provides an outstanding contribution in the anniversary year of Gesualdo’s death.

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Anthony Pryer