Exquisitely programmed and performed hour’s worth of music from The Gesualdo Six at St Martin-in-the-Fields

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Fresh Horizons – The Gesualdo Six: English Motets: The Gesualdo Six (Guy James, Andrew Leslie Cooper, [countertenors], Joseph Wicks, Josh Cooter [tenors], Michel Craddock [baritone], Sam Mitchell [bass], Owain Park [bass/director]). St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, and streamed (click here) on 15.4.2021. (CC)

The Gesualdo Six at St Martin-in-the-Fields

GibbonsCome, Holy Ghost; Drop, drop slow tears
ByrdAve verum corpus; Aspice Domine; Viri Galilaei; Laudate pueri Dominum
DunstapleVeni Sancte Spiritus
CornyshAve Maria Mater Dei
WeelkesAll people, clap your hands
WhiteChriste qui lux es et dies I
TallisIf ye love me; Loquebantur
TyeIf ye yet be risen in Christ
MundyA new commandment

The Gesualdo Six presented a miraculous sequence of 14 motets, all boasting a link to Easter, beginning with the graceful, pure lines of Gibbons’s Come, Holy Ghost (an English translation of the Latin hymn, Veni Creator spiritus); it seemed a logical brother to Byrd’s well-known Ave Verum Corpus (Hail, the true body) from the first volume of Gradualia ac cantiones sacrae (published 1605), here a miraculous journey of purest spirituality, the textures of astonishing clarity. The voices seemed even more exposed in Byrd’s Aspice Domine (Behold, O Lord). In this last, it was Owain Park’s awareness of the interaction of voices, of Byrd’s layering of threads, that enabled the performance to succeed so magnificently.

Wonderful to see and hear some John Dunstable (here ‘Dunstaple’, c.1390-1453). On the cusp between Medieval and Renaissance periods, Dunstaple’s music has a rawness that strikes straight to the heart. The Gesualdo Six understood his musical landscape as surely as they understood that of Gibbons and of Byrd; and while he was born after Dunstaple’s death, the sophisticated musical language of William Cornysh (1465-1523) in his Ave Maria Mater Dei seemed the perfect continuation.

Lovely to hear the rousing ascending intervals of ‘Sound the trumpet’ from Weelkes’s Ascension anthem All people, clap your hands; and, indeed, the fluent, florid prolongation of the word ‘Amen’; Byrd’s wonderful Viri Galilaei offers another Ascension text (from the second volume of Gradualia 1607).

Plainchant infuses Robert White’s Christe qui lux es et dies, a hymn for Compline alternating with richly harmonised verses. It is a mesmeric, hauntingly beautiful effect. The arrangement was reflected spatially, also, with the plainchant delivered at the back of the church against the semicircle of five remaining members further forward.

The lachrymose strains of Tallis’s If ye love me found the lines unfolding like petals. A pity more works have not survived by Christopher Tye (c.1505-1572/3); his four-part If ye be risen again with Christ is a study in blissful meditation on a text, while William Mundy’s A new commandment seemed to glow with an internal light. Hearing the glorious polyphony of Byrd’s Laudate pueri Dominum (from Cantiones Sacrae) immediately afterwards only served to emphasise the blissful tapestry Byrd creates. But can anything compare to Tallis’s remarkable Pentecostal responsory Loquebantur? Oozing majesty and radiance, the contrast to the chant at ‘Repleti sunt omnes Spiritu Sanctu’ (The Apostles spoke in many languages of the great works of God) was, to say the least, maximal. A wonderful piece beautifully performed.

To finish with Gibbons’s Drop, drop slow tears is to end in the most heart-wrenching fashion, the final exposed octave hanging in the air seemingly forever.

An exquisitely programmed and performed hour’s worth of music with excellent camera work (as always, the highest compliment one can pay the camera operators is that one did not notice them). Excellent, comprehensive online programme notes by Sarah Maxted seals the deal. The Gesualdo Six’s concert in the VOCES8 Live from London series in August last year click here was memorable; as was this (and no overlap, commendably).

Colin Clarke

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