Gesualdo: Sacrarum Cantionum, Book 1

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LABELS: Ricercar
ALBUM TITLE: Gesualdo: Sacrarum Cantionum, Book 1
WORKS: Sacrarum Cantionum, Book 1
PERFORMER: Odhecaton; Ensemble Mare Nostrum/Paolo da Col; Liuwe Tamminga (organ)


Gesualdo’s two volumes of ‘Sacred Songs’ published in 1603 are the least recorded of his works, though it was hardly necessary for Paolo da Col to ‘search out the sole original copy’ of the first volume to create his edition, since all the pieces here have been edited and available since 1993 when Jeremy Summerly and the Oxford Camerata’s recorded their excellent Naxos CD. What is distinctive about this new recording is its use of instruments alongside the voices – a regular feature of Odhecaton performances, but amplified here by the viols of the Ensemble Mare Nostrum and the organ playing of Liuwe Tamminga. The stated justification is that these pieces are not strictly liturgical (though in fact some liturgies did allow instruments).


In any case the combined sounds do lend a certain celebratory air to works such as Illumina faciem tuam. In Tribularer si nescierem, though, the instrumentation drowns out the words; in Maria Mater gratiae the texture is ruined by a booming, unbalanced bass line; and in Dignare me laudare the sweet, vocal opening is strangled by the instrumental clutter. There are good singers but they hardly get a chance. Anthony Pryer