Fading: A meditative reﬂection around the ancient Ofﬁce of Compline
Details after review
The Gesualdo Six/Owain Park
rec. 21-23 February 2019, St George’s Church, Chesterton, Cambridge. DDD.
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
HYPERION CDA68285 [63:59]
Don’t be put off by the title of this recording or the penny-plain cover; together they disguise a stimulating listening experience. The Gesualdo Six seem to enjoy plain covers; this one is virtually indistinguishable from their previous release: English Motets (CDA68256). Any recordings of this kind that I miss, my colleague John Quinn usually picks up on.
In the case of English Motets, however, we both seem to have been remiss. I downloaded it in 24/96 format, with pdf booklet, from hyperion-records.co.uk and can report very favourably on it, but, to save taking up space here, I’ll include it in my Spring 2020/2 roundup.
The kernel of the new album is the music of the final office of the day, the short service known as Compline from the Latin word completorium (completion), but the texts of that service are merely a peg on which to hang music by composers from the twelfth to the twenty-first centuries. Some of the music is independent of the texts of compline, but designed to illuminate the theme. That gives it a much wider scope than the Gesualdo Six’s previous release, which confined itself to renaissance works.
The second half of the programme takes us from darkness to the glimmerings of light which, more properly associated with Matins and Lauds, was celebrated in monasteries at midnight and by secular clergy in the early morning.
In approaching such collections, I always wonder whether the elements from the past and present really rub along together or the cracks between different styles are apparent. It’s not that I want all the modern music on such a recording to sound like an imitation of the past, but most of the newer compositions here, while clearly of their time, do fit in well. That’s true, for example, of Owain Park’s own contribution, a setting of the evening hymn Phˇs hilaron (track 4), on which I have more to say below. And the third of Joanna Marsh’s Arabesques, Fading, on the next track, which gives its name to the whole collection, segues well into Byrd’s Lullaby on track 6, especially as the Gesualdo Six make the Byrd sound like ethereal music which transcends its historical time. I can’t remember being so affected by hearing it, and I must have heard it scores of times in some very fine performances.
If some of the newer music doesn’t fit quite so glove-like with what precedes or follows – Seers’ Look down (track 3) comes as a bit of a jolt even immediately after Gesualdo’s far from conventional Illumina faciem tuam – no matter; it didn’t spoil my appreciation of the music or the singing.
The second important question is how well this young all-male group of singers compares with established recordings where such exist. In particular, with The Tallis Scholars’ fortieth-birthday 24-bit remastering of their first recording still fresh in my mind (CDGIM639, download only), how do these performances compare with that mixed-voice group? As it happens, the Scholars didn’t include Te lucis ante terminum in their 2-CD collection The Tallis Scholars sing Thomas Tallis, but their recording of Alonso Lobo’s six-part Versa est in luctum, written for the funeral rites of King Philip II of Spain in 1598, does feature on their recording of his Missa Maria Magdalene (CDGIM031, also, better value, on their 2-for-1 set Requiem, CDGIM205).
The Scholars are not known for over-hasty performance, but I was surprised to find the Gesualdo Six giving this work even more time to expand. It’s one of the hallmarks of the Six throughout this recording that they give the music plenty of space – that’s true, too, of their Tallis and it’s true in Gesualdo’s Illumina faciem tuam (track 2), where they take a few seconds longer than, for example, the very fine Marian Consort and Rory McCreery (Delphian DCD34176 – review – Autumn 2016), without underplaying what Park in the notes describes as the music’s ‘startling harmonic shifts and expressive word painting’.
The Tallis Te lucis ante terminum, which opens the new recording, may not have been recorded by the Scholars who bear the composer’s name, but there are several fine recordings in collections, including a super-budget 2-for-1 collection of Tallis’s Latin music (Taverner Consort and Choir/Andrew Parrott, Erato Veritas 5622302) and a collection of Tallis and Byrd’s Cantiones sacrŠ (1575) from Alamire and David Skinner (Obsidian CD706: Recording of the Month – review). The download of the Obsidian recording was also my Recording of the Month in March 2011/1, but Owain Park and his team, who give the music noticeably more room to develop than Parrott or Skinner, set the tone for an excellent new recording.
There’s no need to be forced to a choice: the Erato and Obsidian offer more
Tallis or Tallis and Byrd, whereas the new Hyperion casts its net much
wider. If you enjoy this Tallis work, it’s easy to get to know more of his
music from those Erato and Obsidian recordings, and even to go the whole hog
with the complete recordings of all his extant music from Chapelle du Roi
and Alistair Dixon. That’s available on separate CDs from Signum or on an
inexpensive 10-CD set from Brilliant Classics (94268). Eight of the separate
albums can be downloaded for ú7.99 each, in lossless sound with pdf booklet,
Much of the more recent music on this album is not otherwise available. Though none
of the works are claimed as first recordings, I believe that several of them are. One exception is director Owain Park’s setting of the ancient Greek hymn Phˇs hilaron, Gladdening Light, recorded by the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2018 (CDA68191 – review). That recording contains the full work; the new one only the second part. I would have liked the whole work to have been included; there would have been room.
As with the Gesualdo Six’s earlier release, I missed that earlier Hyperion recording of Park’s music when it was released, so I took the opportunity to listen to the 24/96 download, with pdf booklet, from their website and
have reported my thoughts in
Spring 2020/2. (It’s also available in mp3, 16-bit lossless and 24/192 formats.) The haunting nature of the second part of this hymn on the new recording would have been enough in itself to have taken me back to the recording of the complete work. There’s no problem here of the music fitting in with the Tallis which opens the proceedings, or, indeed, any of the earlier music.
I need hardly add that, this being a Hyperion release, the recording is very good, the texts and translations are provided, the latter in meaningful English, and the notes are thorough and informative, helping to understand the music as well as giving its context. To be really pedantic, Look down, O Lord (track 3) is not from what most people would understand as the Book of Common Prayer; it comes from more recent Anglican service books, first appearing in the much used but unofficial 1928 book, it’s the collect prescribed for Tuesday Compline in the current Book of Common Worship.
Those who have heard the Gesualdo Six’s earlier recordings will need no urging to go for this new release. Everyone else should seriously consider buying both this survey of music across the centuries and the English Motets album, with their Christmas recording on CDA68299 saved on your calendar for later in the year.
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)
Te lucis ante terminum I [2:34]
Carlo GESUALDO (c.1561-1613)
Illumina faciem tuam [3:37]
Jonathan SEERS (b.1954)
Look down, O Lord [2:23]
Owain PARK (b.1993)
Phos hilaron – II. Hail gladdening Light [2:12]
Joanna MARSH (b.1970)
Arabesques - III. Fading [4:34]
William BYRD (1539/40-1623)
Lullaby, my sweet little baby [2:22]
Veljo TORMIS (1930-2017)
4 Estonian lullabies - II. Marjal aega magada ‘It’s time for the little berry to sleep’ [1:54]
Nicolas GOMBERT (c.1495-c.1560)
Media vita in morte sumus 6vv [7:53]
4 Estonian lullabies - I. Laulan lapsele ‘I sing for my child’ [1:43]
Christopher TYE (c.1505-before 15 March 1573)
Ad Te clamamus [5:22]
4 Estonian lullabies - III. Lase kiik kńia! ‘Let the cradle swing!’ [1:40]
Alonso LOBO (1555-1615)
Versa est in luctum [5:19]
Luca MARENZIO (1553/4-1599)
Potr˛ viver io pi¨ se senza luce [2:56]
Joanna MARSH (b.1970)
Arabesques - IV. Seeds in flight [5:14]
Saint Hildegard of BINGEN (1098-1179)
O Ecclesia [1:24]
Sarah RIMKUS (b.1990)
My heart is like a singing bird [5:45]
Gerda BLOK-WILSON (b.1955)
O little rose, O dark rose [4:39]
4 Estonian lullabies - IV. ─iutus ‘Lulling’ [2:28]