Tenebrae Responsories (2022)


Taking inspiration from the darkness and shadows of Holy Week’s Tenebrae services, this programme explores atmospheric liturgical music through different lenses. Works from the Golden Age of polyphony by Tallis and Gesualdo are juxtaposed with contemporary music by Judith Bingham and a new commission from Joanna Ward.


We are delighted to present our fifth album, Tenebrae Responsories (2022).

About the CD On an overcast evening in March 2014 we came together to give our first performance: Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday. I remember hastily scribbling down a name for the group to put on a poster that would be displayed on railings around Cambridge—little did we know it would stick!

In preparing for this recording, I dug through our archives and found a slightly grainy video of this first concert. There is a lot that is raw and untamed about that performance, but the excitement between the performers is palpable. Many of us were trained in the ranks of the choral tradition in the UK, but we hadn’t worked in a small consort before. The ability to make each vocal line our own while adding to a collective spirit was thrilling. That initial spark ignited a fire under us that spurred us on to give a second performance, and then a third …

That being said, we were (and still are) in no doubt that this is extremely challenging music, some of the most difficult we have encountered both technically—with twisting melodic lines that push vocal stamina and test our ability to nestle notes in the right places—and in terms of the subject matter. At times the harmonic movement seems almost unhinged, at others spellbindingly beautiful.

We have taken inspiration from Holy Week’s Tenebrae services, which draw their name from the Latin ‘tenebrae factae sunt’ (‘there was darkness’). The most striking and dramatic feature of these services is the gradual extinction of candles to the point of darkness. We wanted to present a programme that explores music for this service through different lenses. Judith Bingham’s Watch with me links back to the Renaissance pieces, closing with words that are picked up in the first Responsory by Gesualdo: ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.’ We commissioned British composer Joanna Ward to write a setting of Christus factus est, knowing her minimalist style would provide stark contrast to the incandescent polyphony preceding it.

In a departure from our previous recordings, we set ourselves up in a circular formation. This enabled us to see each other’s faces and to pick up on the slightest movement, playing off one another as the lines intertwined. We hope that this creates a gripping sonic picture, capturing the unrelenting nature of the Renaissance repertoire while allowing the listener to focus on the more soloistic textures in the contemporary works as they appear from different points around the circle. Owain Park © 2022


“The Gesualdo Six’s ornamentation is discreet but lends a decidedly more period feeling to their singing and the fact that they recorded “in the round”, facing each other, seems to have enhanced their homogeneity and interaction… The cry “Plorans ploravit” and “Jerusalem” (“weeping in sorrow…Jerusalem”) from the “Beth” passage in the first Lamentations is especially movingly and beautifully delivered here, both prefiguring and providing a link to Gesualdo’s own preoccupation with grief, remorse and death… The balance and acoustic here are ideal… notes by Owain Park provide thoughtful, helpful guidance and context. ” – Musicweb (Ralph Moore)

“This is a performance of immense stature and huge involvement.. they inject a feeling of urgency and drama which is uniquely persuasive. This really feels like a ‘traversal’, with an expressive arc spanning all nine pieces that would be impossible in liturgical performance but is hugely effective on a recording.”Europadisc

“As one has come to expect with this group, superb, well-controlled singing, wonderful phrasing that produce exquisite lines of beauty and making good use of St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London. One of the delights that sets this CD apart, is the inclusion of two contemporary pieces forming part of the 70 minutes of this inspiring music… At the end of the Tallis Lamentations the consort link to Gesualdo with Judith Bingham’s impressive Watch with me, ‘Then Jesus went with them’ a piece that wonderfully links the renaissance to the 21st century… The rich, sonorous tone of the basses adds depth to the words, and the countertenors cut through effectively. At the end of Gesualdo the choir crescendos and Joanna Ward’s minimalistic style Christus factus est provides a stark contrast to what has come before, using wonderful techniques to hint at both plainchant and folk song, it rounds off this CD perfectly.”  – Yorkshire Times (Andrew Palmer)

Lamentations of Jeremiah  Thomas Tallis (c.1505 – 1585)
Watch with me   Judith Bingham (b.1952)
Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday  Carlo Gesualdo (1566 – 1613) 
Christus factus est   Joanna Ward (b.1998)