Jake Barlow
MusicWeb International

The ensemble Gallicantus is an all-male group known for skilful interpretations of music from the late Renaissance. Made up of just seven singers—including their director, Gabriel Crouch—they have already built a formidable reputation for bringing the Renaissance back to life through dynamic performance and intense interpretation.

I was delighted to find out that they had released this cycle of sacred madrigals and a motet by Orlande (or Roland) de Lassus, one of the best composers of the Renaissance. Composed in 1594, the Lagrime di San Pietro was to be the composer’s last work, and it was published posthumously in Munich in 1595. It’s a wonderful piece depicting St. Peter’s grief after the denial of Christ. Many excellent groups have recorded it including the Collegium Vocale Gent under Philippe Herreweghe and the Huelgas ensemble and Paul Van Nevel. I was excited to get listening to this version.

These madrigals are renowned for their spiritual and confessional tone. Lassus was no stranger to scandal, and he was mischievous and playful for most of his life—a fact that was well known throughout Europe even during his lifetime. The sequence is dedicated to Pope Clement VIII, and Lassus spoke of his ‘personal devotion in … burdensome old age’ in his dedication. The music is intensely poignant and reflective. As an expression of the depths of a man’s soul in the face of death, reaching and maintaining the right emotional tone from the start can be a difficult task indeed.

Gallicantus hit the nail straight on the head from the off. The ensemble, tuning and blend are phenomenal from the first chord, and never wanes. Whether moving in chords or counterpoint, the ensemble remain tight throughout, dealing with the technical demands not only with consummate ease, but also with an absolute level of artistry that deserves nothing but awe and respect. On top of this, the group engages with the music on an intense emotional level, and this is crystal clear throughout. This is magnified further still by the diction, the clarity of which brings a great rhetorical gravity to the whole piece.

Each single voice is wonderfully strong, but never overwhelms. Even at the extreme ends of the musical range—particularly that of the countertenors, which is often soaring high above the rest of the texture, but never outside it—no single voice dominates. This is secured despite the awesome strength of each voice. Each is always subservient to the ensemble, the music, and the bigger picture. The resulting balance is sublime. This is all helped along by the very detailed and well-researched programme notes, which greatly enhanced my experience.

It is nigh on impossible to put just how good this recording is into words, so I am going to stop trying, and just say this: this recording is something that absolutely must be experienced. You will not regret it at all.