02 Penitence LamentationPenitence & Lamentation (Gombert; Byrd; Tallis; Crecquillon; Ramsey; Muhly; Carver)
Byrd Ensemble; Markdavin Obenza
Scribe Records SRCD12 (byrdensemble.com/recordings)

Ten Renaissance pieces set to religious texts expressing, say the booklet notes, “guilt and grief” are movingly performed by the Seattle-based Byrd Ensemble under artistic director Markdavin Obenza. Four selections are by the a cappella group’s inspiration, William Byrd. Particularly affecting are Emendemus in Melius and Byrd’s elegy for his late friend, Thomas Tallis, Ye sacred muses. Tallis himself is represented by two pieces – Absterge Domine and In jejunio et fletu, the latter darkly solemn, sung by only one alto, two tenors and two basses.

Nicolas Gombert’s intense Lugebat David Absalon dramatically sets David’s howling lament over his rebellious son, while Robert Ramsey’s How are the mighty fallen effectively expresses David’s anguish over his beloved Jonathan. Thomas Crecquillon’s earnest Pater peccavi presents the Prodigal Son’s rueful plea to his father. Although only five to ten singers perform the forementioned works, the reverberant acoustic creates the illusion of much larger forces.

American composer Nico Muhly’s Fallings, especially commissioned for this CD, involves 12 singers. Set to verses from Isaiah describing the destruction of Solomon’s temple, the music is often tumultuous and discordant, yet not out of place among the Renaissance works. Ending the CD, 19 singers – 14 of them tenors and basses – join in the longest selection, Robert Carver’s grandiloquent, 12-minute O bone Jesu. The male-heavy sonorities add depth and richness to this cry for mercy – “O good Jesus, let not my sin destroy me.” Texts and translations are included.

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