Lassus: Psalmi Davidis poenitentiales

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COMPOSERS: Lassus
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Lassus
WORKS: Psalmi Davidis poenitentiales
PERFORMER: Collegium Vocale Gent/Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901831-32
These penitential psalm settings, written in the late 1550s, became famous enough to be distributed in deluxe editions during Lassus’s lifetime. The excellent Philippe Herreweghe presents them very persuasively, but gives us only seven psalms whereas Lassus provided a further two non-penitential works (both ‘Laudate’ settings) to complete a wider scheme based on all the modes; a rival version from Henry’s Eight on Hyperion (Dyad CDD22056) includes them all – and at the cut price of two CDs for one.

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That said, the Herreweghe version is particularly beautifully recorded and its vocalists are a notch or two above the uneven mix of Henry’s Eight; the poise and control of the Collegium Vocale in the seventh penitential psalm, for example, is superb. But the overall gloss of these performances sometimes denies the variety and momentum of the music. The Herreweghe ‘Miserere mei’ is a full four minutes slower than the Hyperion account to no good purpose, and in ‘Beati quorum’ they tend to pause at every cadence. In the end, those who want a clear ravishing sound will go for the Herreweghe, and those who want the musical ingenuity and quirkiness of these remarkable settings made more obvious (albeit with a somewhat rougher acoustic and performance standard) will take the Hyperion version. Anthony Pryer