Naming your all-male vocal sextet after an uxoricide may not be the best start to a career, but apart from that, The Gesualdo Six have everything going for them – talent, youth, stamina, confidence and years of experience of singing the most difficult vocal polyphony in the repertoire. The three pairs of altos, tenors and basses who make up this new ensemble are recent graduates from Cambridge chapel choirs, now practising as freelance professional singers.
Just days before the start of Lent, they sang with utter conviction, perfect intonation, impeccable blend, just balance and even a little humour Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday. They negotiated with ease the astringent chords and acute progressions through which the composer never stopped expressing his bitter remorse after the cold-blooded murder of his wife and her lover in the centre of Naples in 1590.
The Tenebrae services should take place in the darkness before dawn on the last three days of Holy Week, but this performance was at lunchtime. Even so they created the stillness and peace of night in the hushed awe that greeted each Responsory. They sang the Latin as if it were a second language, making sense of what are reactions to the specified readings from Lamentations and Corinthians (which we did not hear), the abject confessions, the precipitous excuses.
Each Responsory contains a fast section, usually of short frantic phrases across the parts, which are the most difficult to integrate, but the sextet knew exactly where their harmonies were heading, often illustrating the text with impromptu looks and body gestures, the tenor’s little wake-up kick at vigilate (“be watchful”), the shiver that ran through the voices at fugam (“flee”). They were completely involved with text and score, singing their own part while meshing with the others so that Gesualdo’s gorgeous Poulenc-esque phrase on ego vadam, justified its several repetitions. The blend is superb; but the line-up consists of soloists who will surely also appear as Evangelists, lieder singers or lute-song recitalists in time.
The group resembles The King’s Singers 50 years on except that they have a conductor. Owain Park moulded the beat with fluency and a sense of momentum. Any blemishes – the slight wobble at the start of VII, the single departure from unanimity in the plainsong, were minimal and only human. The concert was part of St John’s Young Artists’ series, which presents them again on Tuesday 12 April.
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★★★★★ – Varsity
Tuesday 17th March 2015
Read the full article here: http://www.varsity.co.uk/reviews/8454
“What was immediately clear from the first plainsong, sung hauntingly by Michael Craddock, was the effortless poise of the group; here is a choir that brings the same stillness to their demeanour as to their most quiet, gentle passages, and the professionalism shown by all six singers both during and between responses was impressive for what is on paper, though not in sound, effectively an amateur ensemble.
“Each vocal part showed control and dexterity that blended with the next, but in particular Hiroshi Amako’s plaintive ‘Mellius illi erat’ during the sixth Responsary was deeply moving. At times you felt like there were a hundred voices; at others, only one.
“The communication between each vocal part added to the wonderful sense of line throughout the work.
“…what Owain Park and the singers have managed to achieve is an ensemble with extraordinary potential, who stand head and shoulders above any other vocal group in Cambridge, and who surely have a promising future ahead.”