The Gesualdo Six are a group of singers that I have only recently become aware of. The few excerpts that I had heard over the radio had impressed me with their fine textured sound. I was most happy to see this CD arrive in my mailbox for review, as I had wanted to explore their work further and the theme of music associated with the Compline service at the close of the day was something that I find really intriguing.
The music presented in this program ranges from the 11th century to the present day. One would think that the modern pieces would not combine well with the ones from the dusty past but that is definitely not the case here. The program has been very well thought out and divided for contrasting atmosphere of the works. It was a surprise to me to discover that the music used in the Compline service comprises a wide variety of poetic themes. Naturally the theme of light fading in to darkness is to be expected but there are many other pieces on the programme that have altogether different themes. The work by Gesualdo is an intense plea for salvation in the darkness. In Calvin Marsh’s Fading the approach of darkness is alluded to by describing the fading beauty of an ageing dove. Singing Bird by Sarah Rimkus is a substantial ode to joy using the symbolism of the natural world.
The poetic high point of the program is reached in Marsh’s evocative Seeds in Flight, a work that was created in 2015 for the King’s Singers. There is also plenty of traditional ancient church music to enjoy here. The Tallis work is a simple setting that suddenly expands into lush harmonics in the middle section. There is a piece from Alonso Lobo which was composed for the funeral of King Phillip II of Spain. There is also a work from the rarely heard Christopher Tye, who was once thought to be the music master to the young Edward VI. They have even managed to include a brief work by the celebrated mystic of the 11th century Hildegard von Bingen. My favorite works on the program are the 4 Estonian Lullabies by Veljo Tormis. I have never failed to be impressed by Estonian choral music with its spirituality that is grounded in a folk-coloured human world. These four little pieces are alternately charming and ravishing to the senses. They are heard to their best advantage if you set your CD player to play them consecutively in their proper order rather than being scattered through the program. I was also deeply impressed with the stunning O little rose, O dark rose by the talented Gerda Blok-Wilson. This piece was composed specifically for the Gesualdo Six and I can see why it is one of their favorite pieces to include in their concert programs.
Throughout the disc the musicians sing with splendid attention to detail; each voice is a shimmering thread that is woven into the dense tapestry of sound they create. There is a delicate musical balance that they maintain throughout all of the works that only increases my admiration for this group and Hyperion’s commitment to promote their exemplary work. Hyperion’s engineers have excelled in a recording of demonstration quality. There is also a well-produced accompanying booklet which gives not only the texts and translations but also an article devoted to helping the listener understand the musical attributes of each work. Highly recommended.