Lassus: Penitential Psalms

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Penitential Psalms
PERFORMER: Henry’s Eight/Jonathan Brown
The sombre Holy Week texts brought music of powerful emotional intensity from Renaissance masters. Among them, according to Hyperion’s notes, ‘few could match Lassus’s innate ability to express the meaning of the text so clearly’. Jonathan Brown and Henry’s Eight support this assertion with illuminating accounts of the composer’s Penitential Psalms.


The opposition of learned counterpoint (‘intellectum’) and a startling ‘uneducated’ cadence (‘non est intellectus’) in Beati quorum remissae and the vigorous depiction of God’s ‘hot displeasure’ in Domine, ne in furore tuo are just two among a multitude of highlights in the Eight’s subtle and flexible response to Lassus’s musical vivification of the word. The evident relish with which this ensemble savours the strikingly realistic imitation of musical instruments in the Laudate Psalms leavens the programme nicely.

Musica Contexta communicates Palestrina’s dark, contemplative moods in his Maundy Thursday music effectively. Hypnotic waves of sound give the Hebrew letters the effect of historiated initials at the beginning of each section of the Lamentations, while sensitive phrasing in varied vocal groupings animates the narrative in the verses themselves. Despite some very fine singing, however, the close recording seems excessively rich, and the plainsong Responsoria are a shade too restrained. This group’s opulence works better in the Benedictus and ‘Miserere mei’, which stir genuine religious feelings.


The Tallis Scholars display an exceptional expressive range on their disc of Lamentations. They reveal the harmonic piquancy in the scores of Ferrabosco and Tallis, and the warm, romantic textures in Brumel’s, with breathtaking clarity. Ultimately, their sensational vocal purity in settings by Palestrina and White – most notably in the ethereal lines of the soprano’s highest register – inspires elevated spiritual thoughts.