Friday 25 May 2018

Prophetiae Sibyllarum

Sibylla - Gallicantus
Prophetiae Sibyllarum, Lassus, Hildegard of Bingen, Dmitri Tymoczko, Eliot Cole; Gallicantus, Gabriel Crouch; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The prophecies of the Sibyls as interpreted by Renaissance and contemporary composers

This enterprising disc on Signum Records combines Orlandus Lassus' complete Prophetiae Sibyllarum with settings of a modern set of Sibylline poems by the composer Dmitri Tymoczko, along with a pair of works by the sibyl of the Rhine, Hildegard of Bingen. The performers are the six men of Gallicantus, artistic director Gabriel Crouch.

Lassus' Prophetiae Sibyllarum is an early work, it was probably written in Italy and seems to have been presented to Duke Albrecht of Bavaria when Lassus joined his service in 1556. The piece consists of a prologue and settings of twelve Latin poems, each attributed to a different sibyl and each looking forward to the coming of Christ. Though the sibylline prophecies were used by the church, this is hardly sacred music and is very much in the madrigal style.

Lassus' writing is highly chromatic with daringly shifting harmonies, and it is clear that his contacts in Italy must have included Cipriano de Rore and Nicola Vincentine, both of them known for their daring experiments with harmony. Lassus exploits the sort of sudden harmonic juxtapositions and shifts which are familiar from Gesualdo's writing.

The sibyls in Jeff Dolven's six poems, set by the American composer Dmitri Tymoczko, seem to be predicting statistical disaster rather than looking forward to Christ. The texts, in English, are just as sphinx-like as their earlier Latin predecessors. Tymoczko's style is highly contrasting to that of Lassus, but still using the same sense of polyphony and madrigal, with juxtapositions which owe more to post-modern techniques than experiments in Renaissance harmony, but still seem to have links.

Lassus' piece is a dense one, and difficult to bring off. The men of Gallicantus move easily between the different styles of the movements, and allow the harmonies to slip, shift and metamorphose with beautifully expressive ease. The placing of the notes is beautifully done, but more than that they bring a real expressivity to the music. You feel that they have lived with this music for a while and are able to get beyond the simple challenge of performing it accurately.

The gift was a personal one from Lassus to the Duke, so would probably have been performed by just such a small vocal ensemble, intimate, personal and highly expressive.

The disc arose from a graduate class at Princeton University where the students studied Lassus' piece and then wrote their own responses. In October 2015, Gallicantus performed these student responses alongside those of two professors, Dmitri Tymoczko and Dan Trueman. So what we have on this disc is a partial reflecton of this project, the complete Lassus, the complete Tymoczko  settings plus Elliot Cole's rather lovely 'I saw you under the fig tree' from his Visions, one of the eight student responses to the Lassus.

This is not an everyday disc, but it is a fascinating exploration of one of those pieces of music which are better known by reputation than from experience in performing.

Orlandus Lassus (1532-1594) - Prophetiae Sibyliarum
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - O pastor animarum
Dmitr Tymoczko (born 1969) - Prophetiae Sibyliarum
Hildegard von Bingen - Laus Trinitati
Elliot Cole (born 1984) - I saw you under the fig tree
Gallicantus (David Allsopp, Mark Chambers, Nicholas Todd, Christopher Watson, Gabriel Crouch, William Gaunt)
Gabriel Crouch (director)
Recorded in St Michael's Church, Highgate London, 24-26 October 2016.
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Interesting programmes, strange timing - homages to Lully and Louis Couperin  at London Festival of Baroque music (★★★★ / ★★★½) - concert review
  • Musical style is like a language: I chat to German composer Moritz Eggert  - Interview
  • Alan Rawsthorne - a portrait: Chamber music and woodwind concertos (★★★) - CD review
  • Unashamedly Romantic: Reynaldo Hahn chamber music from James Baillieu and friends (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Transcendent mysticism: Vaughan Williams' Mass from St John's College (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Te Deum: Purcell & Charpentier at Westminster Abbey for London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★) - Concert review
  • All-star Orfeo - Iestyn Davies and Sophie Bevan at the London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★)  - Concert review
  • Sonorous debut: Neil Ferris & Sonoro in Frank Martin & James MacMillan (★★★★) - CD review
  • Gilbert & Cellier: A work of real musical personality, The Mountebanks rediscovered  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivica Genaux & Sonia Prina recreate the music sung by two great castratos at the Wigmore Hall  (★★★★) - concert review
  • The story of a journey: Roderick Williams & Christopher Glynn in Schubert's Winter Journey  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Welcome to the Magical Garden or perhaps the Garden of Magic: the piano music of Robert Saxton (★★★★) - CD review
  • Philip Venables' 4:48 Psychosis returns (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Thrilling revival: Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at Covent Garden (★★★★★) - Opera review
  • Striking double in Clapham: Shadwell Opera debuts a new work with powerful Janacek song-cycle (★★★½) - opera review
  • Home

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