PALESTRINA Lamentationes Hiermiae
There’s a restraint – and not just the enforced restraint of Tridentine edicts – to Palestrina’s four sets of Lamentations that cuts more deeply than any amount of anguished complexity. Whether this emerges from the astonishing texts themselves or from Palestrina’s own recent encounters with grief (the works were composed shortly after the deaths of his brother, wife and two sons), the result is as richly evocative as the music itself is simple.
Recordings of Palestrina’s Lamentations aren’t in short supply. So what do Guy Janssens and his Belgian vocal ensemble the Laudantes Consort bring to the repertoire? The 14 strong group (which incidentally includes Currende’s conductor Erik van Nevel in the bass section) have always had a warmth to their blend, painting musically in pastels, a technique which adapts well here to Palestrina’s sustained, chordal passages. The singers’ delivery is unworked and almost entirely without vibrato, an approach which lends a wonderful certainty and sense of anchor to the lower voices. In the upper voices it risks naivety and dulls the bladed edge you find in recordings by The Tallis Scholars or Nordic Voices – partly a function of lower key choices.
Under Janssens, however, they shape every phrase with the greatest care. The opening ‘Incipit’ blossoms from nothing in barely perceptible increments, as though the choir can hardly bear to begin their tale of the ‘desolate city’. The Second Lesson for Holy Saturday is another perfectly judged musical drama, starting with fragility (‘How the gold has grown dim’) before taking on more declamatory energy and striking rhythms harder as the poet gains confidence and even anger.
Whether or not this is a set of Lamentations worth buying very much depends on how you listen and use them. These are softly unobtrusive interpretations that encourage meditation, letting ear and mind wander, cushioned by this certainty of the choral sound. For anyone preferring a more confrontational treatment, one that demands attention and urges narrative over more generalised emotional states, I’d look elsewhere.