Recordings of Lassus’s late masterpiece have appeared at reasonably regular intervals since the 400th anniversary of his death in 1994. I was very impressed by Gallicantus’s previous disc last year (enterprisingly devoted to Byrd and his lesser-known contemporary Philippe de Monte—10/12); and, with the all-male ensemble on its current form, the new arrival is a strong contender in a small but select field. The sound image is compelling on its own terms, with the homogeneity typical of ensembles with countertenors on the top lines. But it’s a flexible interpretation nonetheless, for Gallicantus have grasped that which not all their predecessors have: despite the biblical provenance of its plot (which tells of the remorse of the Apostle Peter following his triple denial of Christ on the night of the latter’s arrest), the Lagrime di San Pietro is a madrigal cycle first and foremost. Tempo in particular can and should be treated flexibly, in response to both the rhythm and the meaning of the words, but also to the breaks, pauses and contrasts of the narrative.
They do this very well: when the final movement arrives, the listener truly grasps, in turn, that it is not with a madrigal but with a motet that the cycle ends. As with the Ensemble Vocal Européen under Philippe Herreweghe 20 years ago, details are tellingly lingered over, repetitions properly emphasised and the score’s illumination of an inner drama sensitively rendered. The odd glitch of intonation (very rare, in truth) is a negligible price to pay for such an involving experience. (Fabrice Fitch / Gramophone)