Cantiones Sacrae falls short

The intentions behind this Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam's recording of Sweelinck's score are good, but it's found lacking.

Composer: Sweelinck
Repertoire:  Cantiones Sacrae
Artists: Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam/Harry van der Kamp
Rating:  3/5
Genre: Choral
Label: Glossa GCD 922406

The Music: Sweelinck composed the 37 motets of his Cantiones Sacrae in Calvinist Amsterdam in 1619 – and published them in Catholic Antwerp. All are in five parts at the publisher’s insistence. They are grouped here by genre - Nativity, Psalms, Gospel - where in the original they were mostly random.

The Performance: The Gesualdo Consort of Amsterdam employs one voice to a part, yielding a thin texture. Given that the acoustic is that of a small carpeted room, there is little sense of a rich choral ensemble. Tuning is fine, words discernible, but tone plain. Van der Kamp the bass (he sings and conducts) sounds like a yawn when exposed in Beati pauperes. The soprano pleads dispassionately in O quam beata. Such modesty has a touching effect in the bouncing ‘alleluias’ - like playing leapfrog in cassocks. The motets are interspersed with canons (rounds), which suit well the singers’ modest, grey protestant egalitarianism.

The Verdict: The intention is good, but the result disappointing. Compare this tinsel-less version of the Christmas motet Hodie Christus with the glowing, exuberant throb of the Monteverdi Choir’s (Philips, 462 050). A pity Kamp isn’t truer to his name. The unusual repertoire, however, is a saving grace, as is the informative sleeve note.