Patrician Excellence from Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Gent in Lagrime di Saint Pietro

26/04/2016

Lasso: Collegium Vocale Gent (Dorothee Mields and Barbora Kábatková, sopranos; Benedict Hymas, alto; Thomas Hobbs and Tore Denys, tenors; Benoit Arnould, baritone; Jimmy Holliday, bass); Philippe Herreweghe (conductor), Chan Centre, Vancouver, 15.4.2016.(GN)

VCMLassusPic

Collegium Vocale Gent (c) Jan Gates

Lasso: Lagrime di Saint Pietro

When one thinks of the greatest spiritual masterpieces of music, one naturally gravitates to works such as Bach’s Passions and Masses, which take the listener through a very definite sequence of dramatic peaks and troughs in presenting their story. Yet, if one considers Bach’s exalted Art of the Fugue, the peaks and troughs seldom appear; rather, it is the cumulative strength of the composer’s flow of genius over extended, but relatively uniform, material that takes one to the highest spiritual reaches. Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro (1594), a set of 20 short madrigali spirituali plus motet, is a 16th-century masterpiece of polyphony that casts its spell in this latter way. While each madrigal is a refined and balanced gem, it is the austere weaving together of the whole that suspends one. There could be no greater honour than to have Philippe Herreweghe conduct the work with the ensemble that he founded in the earliest days of authentic performance: the Collegium Vocale Gent. Herreweghe’s long-praised recording of two decades ago for Harmonia Mundi still retains its ‘reference’ status.

Lagrime di San Pietro (The Tears of Saint Peter) was composed just before Lasso’s death, and finds the composer in an understandably penitent mood, setting carefully chosen texts from the poet Luigi Tansillo (1510-1568). The number ‘seven’ is critical to the construction of the work: it employs seven soloists and seven of the eight church modes, many of the movements are divisible into seven sections, and the movements total to the divisible number 21. The act of penitence in turn requires cognizance of the seven deadly sins, seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary, and so on. The depictions of the tears of Peter start in madrigal #9 and continue to #13, while the remaining madrigals convey the desire to receive punishment by death. Each madrigal is just over two minutes long and develops in line with Tansillo’s text, emphasizing speech rhythms and the possibilities for dialogue between alternating voicings. It eschews ornamentation. The final motet, ‘Vide Homo’, consciously departs from the seven modes explored earlier and seeks a tonus peregrinus, possibly employed to illustrate the final transition to the celestial.

It would be difficult to find a more beautifully clean, refined sound than we heard here. Each voicing was conveyed in its own tonal space yet also meshed perfectly with the rest of the ensemble. One evident dimension of Herreweghe’s approach is the lyrical flow he establishes over the whole while still keeping rhythm and detail very precise. Moreover, he has an unerring ability to find, and mesh, different ‘blocks’ or ‘layers’ of sound, and to carry on their resonance consistently as the work proceeds. This reinforces unity and architectural strength. With singers as illustrious as Dorothy Mields leading the sopranos, there could be few questions about the solo credentials of each the seven vocalists, and it was as redeeming to hear their pure individual timbres as it was to hear their finely-honed blend. This was always singing of genuine feeling, and the blend on long sustained notes was ravishing.

One enjoys this music without looking for an explicit structural or emotional peak. The work remains consistently austere, yet is always in motion through its stream of counterpoint. It is the ongoing sequence of moments of refined, timeless beauty ̶ mainly free of explicit pain yet unearthing many emotional shadings  ̶ which creates the glow and radiance for the listener. While the six madrigals starting from #9 do involve dramatic elements, the radiant sound architecture remains more involving than the dramatic details even here. There is a mixture of wonder and determination, with lovely imagery, in #9; #13 has definite gravity, though little angst, since almost all phrases are legato, and tenderness is typically the keynote. After the transient tensions of #15, the work settles into a unique feeling of contemplation and space, where a consuming lyrical flow carries it to the end. Many subtleties are implicit in this undulating fabric: sometimes strength and nobility; other times, a tender, confessional tone. I should remark just how well the inexorability of these final pages was put in place, and just how beautifully-shaded and flexible was the singing in the closing motet.

This was the final concert of the season for Early Music Vancouver, and there could not have been a better way to close an absolutely splendid season.

Geoffrey Newman

Previously published in slight different form on http://www.vanclassicalmusic.com.

 

 

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! 2017 BBC Proms from Friday 14 July – Saturday 9 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich Announces Details of New Season 2017/2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Grange Park Opera’s 2017 Season in its New Opera House __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House Announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! In 2017 The Three Choirs Festival is from 22 to 29 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Glyndebourne Festival 2017: At Glyndebourne, At the Cinema and On Tour __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2017 features Salieri’s The School of Jealousy __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces Seventh Festival of Song for April __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera Announces its 2017/2018 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Autumn/Winter Season __________________________________
  • NEW! General Booking is Now Open for Longborough Festival Opera 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! 2017 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at London’s Southbank Centre in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! IN MEMORIAM LOUIS FRÉMAUX (1921-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Robert Farr reports on the 26th Annual Singing Competition Final – Elizabeth Harwood Memorial Award for Singers __________________________________
  • UPDATED IN MEMORIAM NICOLAI GEDDA (1925-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! BARITONE MICHAEL VOLLE IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST ALEXANDER KARPEYEV IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Reviews of Opera in Mumbai: A Gala and La Bohème Revisited __________________________________
  • NEW! FIVE YOUNG SINGERS JOIN THE JETTE PARKER YOUNG ARTISTS FOR 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! THE SOPRANO ELISABETH MEISTER: FIGHTING BACK FROM WHAT LIFE THROWS AT YOU AND INSPIRING OTHERS __________________________________
  • NEW! REVIEWERS OF SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL PICK THEIR BEST OF 2016 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Mastersingers Celebrate Wagner Past and Present with the Rehearsal Orchestra __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H