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Gesualdo: Tenebrae

Classical album by Carlo Gesualdo and The Hilliard Ensemble

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The Hilliard Ensemble and Don Carlo Gesualdo

  • Jun 17, 2010
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The Hilliard Ensemble (DAVID JAMES countertenor, ROGERS COVEY-CRUMP tenor, STEVEN HARROLD tenor, GORDON JONES baritone) is one of the most sophisticated music groups of the day. The degree of their musicality is the pinnacle of perfection and they are able to move from composer to composer with utter ease and understanding of the performing principles of the days when that music was composed. They are the perfect choice for the recording of this huge work by Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, Count of Conza (1561 - 1613). The Tenebrae (The Complete Responsoria) is a long and very complex musical work written for the evening service before Maundy Thursday and the rest of the ending of Holy Week. It is a work in which gradually all of the candles lighting the church where it is being performed are extinguished, plunging the atmosphere into complete darkness - the mood of the events of Good Friday to Easter Sunday are thus set.

Though there are many settings of the Tenebrae, by far the most haunting is that of Gesualdo heard here. Gesualdo was as bizarre a genus as the musical world has ever known: he murdered his adulterous wife and lover, leaving their skewered bodies on the steps for all the town to see. He was considered insane, plagued by demons and required thrashings of his body nightly to rid him of this malady. There are many stories of this tortured man but the most amazing aspect of Gesualdo is that despite his mental anguish he was able to compose some of the most brilliant music of his day. His madrigals remain examples of advanced creative musicality even today.

The Hilliard Ensemble may be only four men in number, but the acoustical ambience captured in this recording makes them sound like a massive cathedral choir - rich and responsive to space. This is period singing at its best and the manner in which they approach the Tenebrae is breathtakingly beautiful and apropos of the meaning of the music. It transports us to another time and another world and another realm that can only be called truly spiritual. Brilliant! Grady Harp, June 10

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More Gesualdo: Tenebrae reviews
review by . December 19, 2007
posted in Music Matters
I've had the original release of this performance in my collection for years, but I'd forgotten about it until reminded of the Tenebrae by another amaozon reviewer. This is as musically sophisticated and artful a performance of Gesualdo's eccentric music as you can find on CD, far better to my ear than performances of Gesualdo's sacred music by the Oxford Camerata or other multi-voice choirs. I might prefer a little less reverberance - a more face-to-ear sound - and a little less uniformity of tempo, …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #19
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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Carlo Gesualdo's name will always conjure up a special image: When he discovered that his wife had been unfaithful, he had her and her lover murdered and left on his palace steps, impaled on the same sword. Ghastly, but gripping--and, oddly enough, his harmonies, dissonances, upsetting chromatic passages, and general complexity can also be seen as "ghastly but gripping." Gesualdo was wealthy enough that he never had to depend on a patron; he could therefore write whatever he pleased, in whatever, far-out (to this day), experimental style he chose. HisTenebrae Responsoriaare particularly thorny--they're a part of the religious service in which the church's candles are extinguished one at a time until the congregation is sitting in darkness--and Gesualdo's music is incredibly deep and troubling. And, I might add, magnificent. The Hilliards perform them ideally, with great technical accuracy, a sense of the weightiness of the text and music, and simply beautiful sound. This is an example of what makes the Hilliards so special.--Robert Levine
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Label: Ecm Records
Genre: Classical
Release Date: April 18, 2000
First to Review
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