"…Very little is known about the circumstances surrounding the composition of these motets, but as Martin Geck’s liner notes remind us, their significance in Bach’s oeuvre is on par with The Well-Tempered Clavier, equally monumental as examples of counterpoint and absolute harmony. They are, one might say, extra-musical insofar as they express themselves far beyond the words at their core, beyond the note values ascribed to those words, and beyond the constraints that pigeonhole them into meters and divisions. Rather, they lose themselves blissfully in the finer details of their flowering…"
The brief opening piece for chorus on this new release, "Da Pacem Domine," is based on a 9th century Gregorian work and has the usual, familiar–and very beautiful–Pärt-ian characteristics: a soft, endless stream of easy tritones and harmonies that make this plea for peace immensely moving. The major work, Lamentate, is scored for large orchestra and solo piano–a very unusual combination for Pärt. Even his fans will be surprised. In ten brief sections, it begins with a quiet drum roll, immediately followed by horn calls. There are forte explosions for full orchestra and piano, with heavy percussion. At times the only thing we hear is a hushed piano part with strings supporting very quietly. The effect is dark yet alluring. It ends peacefully. This is another stunning CD of Pärt's music for his fans–old and new.
Tigran Mansurian's music is rooted in Armenian folk and church music filtered through contemporary Europeans, especially Bartók. In many respects he resembles other post-Soviet composers like Schnittke and Svirdov, sharing their combination of elusiveness and accessibility. Kim Kashkashian has long championed his works, and the outstanding violist is superb here. She's the center of gravity in the Viola Concerto, titled "…and then I was in time again," a quote from Faulkner and resembling his stream-of-consciousness style. The complex interplay of soloist and 18 strings fascinates, the two going their own ways and coming together again in unpredictable fashion but always to expressive effect. It's in two movements, the first more dramatic, the second poignant. In Lachrymae,.. –Dan Davis
Hearing or performing music comes closest in the range of human activity to a visceral connection to the past. As long as we have notation and knowledge of how to interpret it, we can effectively experience something like our ancestors did when they sang the same music. Of course, our 20th-century sensibilities and knowledge–or lack thereof–prevent us from sharing identical responses, but as with the music on this disc, when we hear it we are in some way transported to another place. We know a completely different sound world from our own; we know that the accepted order of certain things was different. And we also know that in many ways people haven't changed. Machaut's music conveys a spirituality–both joyful and contemplative–that's as true in its impact as it must have been 600 years ago, a point made ever so clearly by these especially vibrant and vital performances.
It's been six years since these same performers got together to create one of the decade's more unusual experiments in musical alchemy. Beginning with the raw materials of early music and modern jazz, the four male voices of the Hilliard Ensemble joined with jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek to see what would happen when the proper measure of old music and new style were combined, shaped by the performers' considerable experience and collective aesthetic vision.
The elegant rhetoric betrays Gesualdo's aristocratic background, and its internal contradiction neatly reflects the baffling ingenuity of his work, whose dissonances were literally centuries ahead of his time, their bold gambits regarded with suspicion by his 16th-century peers, and even now testing the imagination and ingenuity of even as accomplished a team as the Hilliard quartet.
The music of Flemish composer Nicolas Gombert (accent it like "Dilbert"), active in the first generation after Josquin in the 1530s and 1540s, has remained almost completely untouched by the growth in audience enthusiasm for Renaissance music in recent years. Is this because, according to one of those music-historical sidelights reproduced in the notes here, Gombert was once fired from a job for committing "gross indecency" with a choirboy? More likely it's the relatively unchanging texture of his unaccompanied choral music; although it is far from inexpressive, it is quite dense. His language is derived from that of his mentor Josquin, but there are no high-relief points of imitation to grab onto, no moments of lucidity. It's sort of a Renaissance wall of sound, dark-colored, but with flashes of intense red and blue.