Lassus: St Matthew Passion; Visitatio; Exsultet

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Lassus
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: St Matthew Passion; Visitatio; Exsultet
PERFORMER: Paul Elliott (tenor)Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907076 DDD
The Tears of St Peter, settings of 20 non-liturgical Italian poems, are spiritual madrigals, with the delicate imagery of the words subtly reflected in the music. Unusually, these pieces are in seven parts, allowing dramatic contrasts of range and density. The symbolism of ’ for the suffering and sorrows of the Virgin Mary is extended by an additional Latin motet at the end to make seven times the Trinity, 21 pieces in all, further integrated by working their way systematically round the modes so that each has a fresh colour.

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The performance, one voice to a part, is superb. Minimal vibrato and fine intonation create the richest of sonorities. The singing is flexibly paced, involved, and very expressive, reflecting Lassus’s deeply human concern for personal salvation in this, his last work. He died three weeks after its dedication.

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Lassus’s contribution to the Passion was to insert contrapuntal settings of speaking characters and chorus into the traditional plainchant narrative sung by Evangelist and Christus. As a concert performance divorced from its liturgical function, this contemplative, repetitive chant – no descriptive cock-crow nor passionate cries from the cross – depends for its effectiveness very heavily on Paul Elliott’s sensitive and expressive pacing. George Pratt