Classical album reviews: Taverner Consort and Choir, Rolando Villazón, Sabine Liebner


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The Independent Culture

Taverner Consort & Choir, Andrew Parrott "Carlo Gesualdo: Tenebrae Responses for Good Friday" (Avie)

Originally released in 2000, this recording of the three Nocturnes of Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responses for Good Friday reveals with glorious clarity the extraordinary vocal innovation of this extraordinary composer. Prefaced by a psalm, each Nocturne alternates three Lessons, delivered as solo invocations, with the Responses for which Gesualdo is justly renowned. These are works of startling polyphony, the six voices combining in hitherto unheard dissonances which stay shockingly unresolved. But they fit the extremity of the subject matter, particularly when, as in the “1st Response”, it deals with the betrayal and abandonment of Jesus, or the “5th Response”, as darkness descends across the land in response to the crucifixion.


Download: 1st Response; 5th Response; 6th Response; 8th Response

Rolando Villazón "Mozart Concert Arias" (Deutsche Grammophon)

As respite from his longer-term project involving live recordings of the seven major Mozart operas, Rolando Villazón here offers an anthology of the composer’s less well-known arias. It’s a fascinating collection, with some striking unearthings such as “Dove mai trovar quel ciglio?” from the uncompleted opera buffa Lo sposo deluso, in which Villazón adopts a wheedling, furtive manner for asides commenting sardonically on a bride and groom, whilst ostensibly praising them. A similar technique – this time spat through clenched teeth – is used in the comic aria “Con ossequio, con rispetto”, while elsewhere the range of Villazón’s technique is demonstrated by his rapid-fire syllable-shower of “Clarice cara mia sposa” .


Download: Per pietà, non ricercate; Con ossequio, con rispetto; Clarice cara mia sposa; Dove mai trovar quel ciglio?

Sabine Liebner "John Cage: Solo for Piano" (Wergo)

The stand-alone piano part from Cage’s Concert for Piano & Orchestra, this is a world away from the usual formal narrative of classical music, but it’s by no means random, in either sound or intention. Indeed, it’s more prescriptive than most sonatas, requiring the pianist to follow 63 pages involving 84 different graphic structures, the indeterminacy introduced by the performer’s choices. Rather than a score, it’s more of a proposal, and in the hands of Sabine Liebner  it offers a specific sequence of moods and intimations that demands one’s full attention from the opening low tremor, through the mild drizzle of solitary notes, the percussive taps and plucked-string resonances, the watery drips and bubbles, and the passages of rustling noise. Far less daunting, and more satisfying, than it first appears.


Download: Solo For Piano