Founded in 2014 by Owain Park, The Gesualdo Six are young male singers largely drawn from Oxbridge College choirs. This impressive debut recording is a compilation of English Renaissance polyphony from Dunstable to Tomkins via Byrd and Tallis.
Rather than attempting to reflect aspects of political change or religious turmoil, this compendium takes its motivation, I suspect, from a what-do-we-know-and-like-best approach. What comes across is a remarkable sense of assurance with consistently high-quality one-to-a-part singing: Gesualdo Six (with Park occasionally adding his own bass capacity) is unanimous in expressivity, readily apparent in the stylish rendition of Sheppard’s ‘Libera nos, salva nos I’ – its overlapping phrases glowing with warmth and dedication.
Affection for this music is self-evident, as is a partiality for the more-sombre reaches of this repertoire, taken to an indulgent level at the expense of diversity in mood and tempo. But it becomes clear that solemnity suits these singers’ sensitivity. The confessional spirit of Tallis’s ‘Suscipe quaeso Domine’ reveals the group’s gift for dramatic pacing and careful phrasing: if at times greater consideration could be given to dynamics there is compensation in velvet-smooth blend and a sense of veneration especially in its the closing bars, one of the finest extended cadences anywhere in Tallis’s output.
A similar fervour endows Byrd’s ‘Ne irascaris, Domine’ and Tomkins’s grief-stricken ‘When David heard’ sung with compelling emotional charge with (bar some intrusive vibrato), its devotional intensity beautifully rendered. So too the austerity of Gibbons’s ‘O Lord, in thy wrath rebuke me not’ and there is suitable poise in White’s ‘Christe, qui lux es et dies I’, which provides some gratifying variety in its alternation of solo/homophonic forces and syllabic declamations.
Gesualdo Six can be feisty too, strikingly so in Tallis’s seven-part ‘Loquebantur variis linguis’ and Byrd’s ‘Vigilate’ both dispatched with full-throated enthusiasm. Individual voices occasionally sound gung-ho and the two altos leap around the top of the stave like a pair of trapeze-artists – their bravura a thing of wonder. Byrd’s vigour is well-served, although balance isn’t always ideal, with basses under-projected and the final chord lacking finesse.
Stylistic variety arrives with Motets from Cornysh and Dunstable, each unfolding with a natural affinity for the sinuous lines and rhythmic elaboration. Further music by Byrd and Tallis plus contributions from Parsons and Taverner make up this ambitious and rewarding programme, annotated by a full booklet note and texts. Hyperion has found a superb ensemble in Gesualdo Six – perhaps for the next recording they might add the eponymous composer.