GMCD 7148 – Crufixus – Music for Holy Week
Vasari Singers, Jeremy Backhouse – Conductor, Oliver Gledhill – Cello, Ingla Weeks – Doubel Bass, Ian Curror – Organ
American Record Guide – May/June 1999
This recording brings together classic works for Holy Week bz Italian composers from the late 16th to the early 18th centuries. Some of the works, like the Palestrina Stabat Mater and Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere, are very well known.
The Program opens with the Palestrina and concludes with Domenico Scarlatti’s setting of the same text. I will confess that this is my first acquaintance with the Scarlatti Stabat Mater, an early work most likelzy written in Rome during his tenure as maestro di capella of the Basilica Giulia (1713 – 19). It is a more expansive setting than Palestrina’s, but then, who could ever top the deceptively simple eloquence of the concise masterpiece? Scarlatti’s setting is in ten parts with continuo. His expert counterpoint seems natural and spontaneous, at the service of the larger expressive purpose of the music.
Every second work on the program is a motet oin the text “Grucifixus etiam pro nobis” from the Nicene Creed. The three settings by Antonio Lotti (c 1667-1740), in six, eight and ten parts, seem to explore the different facets of the anguished and impassioned expression suggested by the text. An impressive 16 part setting by Antonio Caldara (c1670 – 1736) precedes the concluding Scarlattis Stabat Mater.
It seems that highly accomplished English concert choirs are springing up up faster than weeds. Jeremy Backhouse and the Vasari Singers are new to me, and the booklet gives no information about them other than photographs. The group photograph shows a mixed choir of 26 voices. I assume that they take their name form the 16th century art historian Giorgio Vasari. That together with the content of this disc suggests that they specialise in Italian renaissance and baroque repertory. Like so many English choirs their sound is smooth and well-blended. The basic tone is very warm, further enhanced by the acoustics of St. James’s Church, Clerkenwell Green, London. Backhouse’s interpretations are anything but dispassionate. Even in as understated a work as the Palestrina Stabat Mater, he introduces dramatic, almost romantic dynamic inflections that give the performance a vivid shape and propulsion. The singers demonstrate that they have plenty of power for the most stunning climaxes, but their tone never becomes wild or operatic.
The Allegri,Miserere seems to be performed from the corrupt but widely-accepted edition of Sir Ivor Atkins. The semi-chorus verses sound distant and somewhat compressed, apparently an attempt to give the impression of spatial separation.
Apart from some untidy solo singing in the ‘Inflammatus of Scarlatti;sStabat Mater, these performances display and extraordinarily high level of technical polish. The music is magnificent and the program is effectively planned with the Allegri as the centerpiese, flanked by the shorter motets of Anerio and Gesualdo, the ‘Crucifixus’ motets intervening and the Stabat Mater settings to open and close
Cathedral Music – April 1999
How often one sees “Music for Holy Week” advertised as a concert. Well, here is that concert come true and most beautifully done too. The Vasari Singers are as expert and experienced in this music as their director Jeremy Backhouse. So the performances can almost be taken for granted so expert is the singing. Lovely actual sound, perfection in blend and balance with a feel for the lead of entries, all with a fine range of dynamics. The programme offers a number of delights, one of them the chance to hear three Crucifixus settings by Antonio Lotti in 6, 8 and 10 vocal parts. The famous Miserere of Allegri us given with conjectural parts written by Ivor Atkins, complete with top Cs so memorably by generations of boy choristers. The ladies of Vasari do not sound like boys but still float the high parts beautifully (slight reservation about intonation here). Actually after all that penitential polyphony it is a relief to join jolly old Scarlatti for a more baroque Stabat Mater. This appropriately brings a change of tonal style, in addition to instrumental accompaniment. Altogether a most successful recording, nicely captured by Guild engineers.
Choir & Organ Magazine March/April 1999
Visits to the Capella Sistina are also made in Crucifixus, a collection of multi-part music for Holy Week sund by the Vasari singers under Jeremy Backhouse. This ‘Cream-cake’ complilation form the Billy Bunter school of programming will, no doubt, delight all their fans who want these popular Renaissance and Baroque works on one disc, and it is doubtful if any of the world’s leading amateur chamber choirs could do it better. It speaks volumes for the group’s dedication and commitment, but one can’t help feeling that Backhouse has done his singers a disservice be not resisting the temptation to stretch his forces too far. They sing with well-blended tone, wide dynamic rance, and only occasional lapses of intonation. It’s all attractively done, if somewhat over directed at times, with rhetorically exaggerated dynamics making Gesualdo’s O vos omnes sound like a fifth sacred piece by Verdi! On the whole they are impressively secure in the more simply-scored repertoire which, ans any choral singer can vouch, is not by any means easy to do well. It does them credit that the sustained sonorities of Palestrina’s Stabat Matar and Felice Anerio’s Christus factus est are so movingly captured, and they clearly appreciate the dissonance and tension in works by Gesualdo and Lotti. Where things become fragile are in the multi-voice works: Allegri’s Miserere,, Caldara’s Crucifixus and the Stabat Matar of Domenico Scarletti, which rely heavily on soloists. An admirably courageous recording.
Organist – February 1999
This disc contains both some of the best-loved Passiontide polyphony and a number of items that have only recently become better known. It is good to see Lotti’s three versions of the Crucifixus on the same recording – whilst the eight-part setting is ever popular, the ten-voice version is a work of great intensity whose long lines are conveyed superbly here. The opening of O vos omnes by Gesualdo is perhaps a little robust for some tastes on this recording, but the commitment of the performers to the tortured harmonic vocabulary of the work, which can still sound surprising four centuries after its composition, is never in doubt.
The concluding work in the selection is Domenico Scarlatti’s setting of the Stabat Mater. This work is scored for ten voices and continuo, with four soprano voices contributing fundamentally to the timbre of the composition. Jeremy Backhouse produces a performance that is compelling in its sense of line, with the climaxes suitably expansive. The Vasari Singers produce some highly controlled singing, with the flexibility necessary to mould the often sinuous lines together. The disc is worth buying for this work alone – the combination with the other gems from the repertoire makes it a must.
Church Music Quarterly – Januar 1999
Crucifixus sung by the Vasari Singers, conducted by Jeremy Backhouse is a treasure-trove of music for Holy Week, comprising motets by Palestrina, Lotti, Anerio, Allegri, Gesualdo and Caldara; and Dominico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater. Sadly, these jewels do not shine as brightly as they might. While the Vasari Singers exhibit excellent ensemble in their performances, and an admirable clarity of attack, there is a flatness in their tone which, while arguable appropriate to penitential music, becomes somewhat oppressive in the course of the disc and leads to some imperfections of intonation.
Gramophone – November 98 Issue
The Italian Way of the cross is sweet with voices that intertwine like a crown of thorns trimmed with honeysuckle.
Antonio Lotti’s eight-part Crucifixus is the famous one, but here are the six- and ten-part settings too. A small masterpices is Gesualdo’s O vos omnes, a large one Scarlatti’s Stabat mater. All are sung with feeling and skill.
Classic CD – November 1998 Issue
The work of a younger choir, Jeremy Backhouse’s Vasari Singers, can be sampled in Crucifixus, a programme of music for Holy Week on the Guild label. There isn’t quite the same level of extraordinary technical accomplishment here, but Vasari are certainly no slouches, and sing in a potently affecting way. There are works by Palestrina, Lotti and Gesualdo, but I was particularly taken by the one large-scale setting, a 27-minute Stabat Mater by Domenico Scarlatti (he of the 555 harpsichord sonatas fame), which is very fine indeed
BBC Music Magazine November 1998
The Vasari Singers are an amateur choir, and a very fine one. If they need a split second for chords to settle, for voices to focus, the pay-off is a captivating ardour and commitment. Momentary slips, of intonation below a gloriously effortless soprano top C in Allegri’s Miserere, of hard-driven soloists in the liveliest sections of Scarlatti’s Stabat mater – these are a small price to pay for such a fresh, enthusiastic sound.
The Singers, and Backhouse, are fearless too. This taxing programme begins with seven unaccompanied pieces in which pitch remains admirably stable – Palestrina’s eight-part Stabat mater, ‘Crucifixus’ settings in six, eight and ten parts by Lotti, the harmonic maze of a Gesualdo motet.
High spots for me are the almost unbearably tortured harmonies of Lotti’s six-part Crucifixus, the dense, enveloping sonority of his eight-part setting, the spaciousness of both distant semi-chorus and of slow-paced chant in Allegri’s Miserere. Another Crucifixus by Caldara is denser still – in 16 parts from this 26-strong choir – with a hypnotic harmonic sequence surrounding Christ’s entombment.
Excellent recorded sound capitalises on the acoustics of a fine London church, retaining a ‘presence’ with sustained ambient sound between the tracks.
PERFORMANCE (Very Good)
The Organ (DWe) – Vol. 78 No. 307
Despite the restricted theme of this disc there’s no lack of variety either in content or in the mode of performance. Lotti’s three settings of the Crucifixus have piercing dissonances and magically controlled diminuendi à 6; tensions created by dynamic contrasts à 8; and a starkness in the exposed entries à 10. The thick textures of Caldara’s à 16 use stile antico techniques in capturing a Baroque splendour similar to that of an El Greco painting.
Palestrina’s Stabat Mater and Anerio’s Christus factus est are more euphonious, and Gesualdo’s O vos omnes has a vigorous directness, not what you might expect from a murderer, and far removed from the expressive extravagance of some of his madrigals. Equally surprising for those who are encountering Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater à 10 will be the composer’s high quality technique and inspiration. It is all far removed from the sparkling harpsichord sonatas with which his name is associated, and the performance, like most of the other tracks, is exemplary.
Allegri’s Miserere faces strong competition on disc. The opening is atmospherically right, remote and impersonal with boyish soprano tone and easily-negotiated cadenzas. However, somewhat surprisingly, the supporting under parts sound insecure at these points when judged by the highest standards, as would be appropriate for the Vasari Singers.
Cathedral Classical Newsletter, Issue 8 – September 1998
This is an outstanding disc, not only in terms of repertoire but also in performance. Lotti’s three settings of ‘Crucifixus’ are particularly welcome