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Il Cor Tristo
Bernardo PISANO (1490 - 1548)
Or vedi, Amor [2:21]
Nova angeletta [2:09]
Chiare, fresche, e dolci acque [2:48]
Roger MARSH (*1949)
Il Cor Tristo - I° [5:56]
Jacques ARCADELT (c. 1507 - 1568)
Solo e pensoso [3:20]
L’aer gravato [1:42]
Tutt’il dì piango [3:46]
Roger MARSH
Il Cor Tristo - II° [5:54]
Bernardo PISANO
Si è debile il filo [3:23]
Ne la stagion [4:50]
Che debb’io far? [4:10]
Roger MARSH
Il Cor Tristo - III° [12:44]
The Hilliard Ensemble (David James (counter-tenor); Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor); Steven Harrold (tenor); Gordon Jones (baritone)
rec. November 2012, Probstei St. Gerold
ECM NEW SERIES 2346 [2012]

The Hilliard Ensemble needs little or no introduction and, housed here in the familiar acoustic of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Gerold in Austria, ECM collectors of their work will know what kind of sound to expect. The ECM website announces that Il Cor Tristo is a release which marks the Hilliards’ celebration of their 40th anniversary and the start of their final year together. They are to disband at the end of 2014. Counter-tenor David Jones says that this last year will be a kind of creative round-up of their musical journey: “As well as all the music that we have discovered and enjoyed performing over the years, we want to embrace the important relationships and people that have contributed to some of the remarkable landmarks and turning points in our career”.
 
This release brings together two significant Renaissance names with one of our living composers, Roger Marsh, who sets part of Dante’s Inferno from the Divine Comedy. Bernardo Pisano kicks off proceedings, his Or vedi, Amor sounding as modern as anything elsewhere on the album. Pisano is considered “a pioneer in taking Italian polyphonic song from gaiety to a greater gravity, more musically sustained and substantial.” I quote Paul Griffiths’ notes as he sums up Pisano so well.
 
Jacques Arcadelt took on the example of Pisano and developed it further, sublime examples such as Tutt’il dì piango standing as testimony to a music which responds ever more emotionally to the texts, in this case those of Francesco Petrarca. For those of you concerned that the modern music which punctuates these jewels of the ancient past will spoil your experience you need not worry too much. Roger Marsh’s style is distinctly tonal, at times using bluesy close harmony which distinguishes his music from the earlier examples. He also employs declamatory techniques as there is so much text to get through. The gentler harmonic elements of this, with words sung over a pedal tone or single harmony, put me in mind of a butch Arvo Pärt. The intensity of this use of text also results in an inherently dramatic feel, and there is a certain amount of shouting in Il Cor Tristo - II. Marsh says that his “primary concern has been to keep Dante’s words clear at all times, and thus you will find in this contemporary music many devices more usually encountered in music of much earlier times.”

The booklet prints the section of La Divina Commedia used both in Italian and English, so you can have fun following the narrative and seeing how Marsh characterises each portion, the Hilliards responding with élan in their variety of colour and articulation.
 
This is a highly successful programme with all-round appeal and an inventive concept. Of course we regret the Hilliard Ensemble’s decision to make 2014 their final year together, but with further new ECM releases promised this looks like being one of their most fruitful and fascinating periods.
 
Dominy Clements