Lamentations never sounded so good

‘Not even the words of the gloomy prophet sound so sad as the sad music of my composer’.

-Robert Dow in his copy of Robert White’s Lamentations

Hymns, Psalms, and Lamentations

Sacred Music by Robert White

Gallicantus; directed by Gabriel Crouch

Signum CD

There’s much to lament these days – just the news about the BP oil spill alone makes my blood boil. And while no one can entirely assuage our feelings of loss and dismay, even with the most beautiful music, I’m willing to give the newly minted early music ensemble Gallicantus an inside track on trying to make us, for a moment, forget. Hymns, Psalms, and Lamentations is an exquisitely beautiful disc of church music by Tudor-era composer Robert White.

In their debut recording, the all-male octet Gallicantus sing with lovely tonal purity and seamless blend, but they never seem dispassionate. Indeed, under the direction of Gabriel Crouch, their performances find that delicate balance between graceful stylistic care and emotive text-painting.

There are a number of stirring works on the disc, including a heart-rending Miserere Mei Deus and an equally engaging Manus tuae facerunt me. But the standout performance is its closer: White’s 6-part Lamentations setting. While there’s plenty included on the CD – it clocks in at a generous 73 minutes – one can’t help but get a little greedy and wish that they’d also recorded his 5-voice Lamentations setting as well.

White is not the household name that Tallis or Byrd is in choral circles. But then, he had less time to make an impression. He and his entire family perished in an outbreak of plague in Westminster in 1574. Scholars aren’t sure of his birthdate, but most put his death well shy of his fortieth birthday. One hopes that this disc invites further exploration of this composer’s repertoire: relatively small, but poignant nevertheless.