"…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…"
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.
Boris Yoffee was born in Russia in 1968. There, he studied violin and composition and before the breakup of the Soviet Union he immigrated to Israel, where he studied at Tel Aviv University. In 1997, he moved to Germany to study composition with Wolfgang Rihm. By 2009, he had amassed an enormous number of short works. Thus, the performers who had been asked to record his Song of Songs looked through approximately 800 of them in order to select the pieces they wanted to perform. The Rosamunde Quartet is a German string quartet that was formed in 1992; since the group disbanded in 2010, this is its last recording. The Hilliard Ensemble is a British male vocal quartet that is well known for its performance of Renaissance, medieval, and contemporary music. It has often performed the works of Arvo Pärt, whose music is somewhat similar to that of Yoffe.
…Of course, nobody can coax the impact out of a dissonance like the Hilliard Ensemble. Countertenors David James and David Gould shape Machaut's almost Faulknerian top-voice syntax into affecting emotional statements, and even listeners new to medieval music will become ensnared in the poet's quest for the slightest glance of regard from his unattainable Lady…