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No doubt then, that the elderly Lassus would have identified with the anguish of Peter; but it seems likely too that his selection of texts by Luigi Tansillo was carefully considered. One of the great inheritors of the Petrarchan school, Tansillo wrote the 42 stanzas of his Lagrime towards the end of a career which had seen notoriety and Papal censorship of his more licentious work. The text of the Lagrime was itself an act of penitence, and it won the explicit approval of the Pope—the same approval that Lassus sought in setting the first 20 stanzas of the work three decades later. Read consecutively, the stanzas present the stages of remorse experienced by Peter after his threefold denial of Christ. In the first few movements the focus lingers on the eyes of Christ, which in Tansillo’s hand become weapons to pierce Peter’s soul, later transformed to mirrors in which Peter witnesses his great crime with unbearable clarity. In the seventh and eighth madrigals Peter imagines the voice of Christ chastising him for his betrayal. The next twelve madrigals form a sequence of self-recriminations which begin with depictions of the tears of Peter (madrigals 9 to 13) and conclude with his desire to receive the punishment of death (madrigals 14 to 20).
By deliberate design, the 21st and final movement lies outside the harmonic plan of the cycle: The first 20 madrigals chart a tonal arc through modes I to VII, but the final motet Vide Homo, quae pro te patior is based upon the tonus peregrinus (‘wandering tone’), which perhaps reflects a shift in perspective from the worldly to the celestial. This release does not bring consolation—in fact, we witness the crucified Christ bitterly rebuking his audience, demanding witness to his suffering which, though painful, does not compare to the agony of man’s ingratitude for his sacrifice. Appropriately for the voice of Christ, this 13th-century text by Philippe de Grève is delivered in Latin, not Italian—though the anguish depicted in Lassus’ music is every bit as searing as before.
Lassus treasures every syllable of Tansillo’s poetry and goes to great lengths to see that we hear the lines as he does. The musical phrases echo the natural rhythms of speech, with no room for florid embellishment or melisma. Lines of text are repeated for emphasis where necessary, and are set antiphonally (between alternating smaller groups of singers) where some sense of dialogue is appropriate. Each madrigal has its own emotional arc, and the points of climax are set with both text and music in mind. Every phrase has its own colour, and though gloom and anguish surely dominate, there is the occasional moment of reprieve or a glimpse of the humour of the old days—witness the earthy song of the cockerel in the 11th madrigal, or the limping of the lame in the 18th. As a model for the fruitful union of music and poetry the Lagrime di San Pietro sits at the pinnacle of the sacred madrigal cycles of the late 16th century, and is one of the great musical achievements ‘comparable in its artistry, its dimensions, its asceticism,’ wrote Alfred Einstein in 1949, ‘to the Musical Offering and the Art of Fugue.’
from notes by Gabriel Crouch © 2013
|Lassus: Lamentations & Requiem|
During the last twenty years of his life, Orlande de Lassus was the most celebrated composer in Europe. The pieces selected for this recording represent Lassus' treatment of the theme of dealth during the mature period.» More