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Giaches de WERT (1535-1596) Divine Theatre – Sacred Motets Gaudete in Domino [1:32]
Hoc enim sentite in vobis [7:33]
Saule, Saule [3:46]
Vox in Rama audita est [4:46]
Amen, amen dico vobis [5:51]
Egressus Jesus [6:09]
Peccavi super numerum [8:07]
O Crux ave, spes unica [3:40]
Ascendente Jesu in naviculam [5:03]
Virgo Maria hodie ad coelom [4:54]
Quiescat vox tua a ploratu [7:23]
Deus iustus, et salvans [3:02]
O altitudo divitiarum [5:26]
rec. April 2016, All Hallow’s Church, Gospel Oak, London HARMONIA MUNDIHMM807620 SACD [67:19]
I admit that then name of Giaches de Wert was unknown to me before I came upon this CD, but the (typically informative) booklet notes say that he is most well known as a composer of secular music, specifically madrigals. However, he spent most of his working life as maestro di cappella in the chapel of the Duke of Mantua (he was an influence on Monteverdi) and this disc gathers together a collection of his sacred music, the title being a completely appropriate reflection of how Wert used the theatricality of his skill as a madrigalist to deepen and empower his sacred music.
You really hear where the idea comes from, too. There is an airborne feel to his settings, as though channelling the pictorial mood of much madrigal music, with vocal lines that bounce across one another rather than sit in earth-bound parallels. He has a word-painter’s skill, too: there is a lot of ascending and descending in Hoc enim sentite in vobis, his setting of the great Carmen Christi passage from Philippians chapter two, and the different voices tumble over one another in the “quem tu persequeris” passage of Saule, Saule, depicting the persecution of the faithful. The mood of this music is a lot livelier in spirit than many of the contemporary settings of Renaissance church music. Compare this with the seriousness and aural blocking of the music of, say, Tallis, or the meditative depth of Byrd, and you’ll see the difference (though, of course, they wrote in very different contexts and worlds to Wert).
Elsewhere, you’re struck by the musical quality of what’s on offer, theatrical or not. The searing chromaticism of Vox in Rama mirrors the weeping of the mothers of the murdered innocents, while Peccavi super numerum is inward, penitential and intimate. Ascendente Jesus is Wert at his most theatrical. Depicting Christ calming the storm, it begins gently, but builds into an effective storm scene, with specially plaintive music for the pleading of the disciples. It’s scored for only six voices, but it’s very effective, in the same way that the agonising suspensions of Quiescat vox tua attempt to bring consolation in sorrow.
The disc is well curated, well chosen and, of course, very well sung. This sort of thing is right up Stile Antico’s street, particularly the aspect of reacquainting the listening world with the less familiar work of a composer, and they sing throughout with crystalline clarity but also notable depth in the basses. They create a supremely well balanced sound which is full, whole, and which serves the music in a most satisfying manner.