Gesualdo Six makes a pleasing impression in Miami debut

By Lawrence Budmen

The Gesualdo Six performed Thursday night in Aventura. Photo: Ash Mills

Good male vocal groups that present serious repertoire, rather than more commercial fare, are all too rare. The Gesualdo Six, a British sextet founded in 2014, is definitely an exceptional ensemble. 

Presented by RK Cultural Productions, the group offered “The Wishing Tree,” a widely varied program Thursday night at the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center. From Renaissance polyphony to folk songs of the British Isles and contemporary choral scores, the six singers wove a cascade of finely blended timbres with both fervor and subtlety.

Countertenors Guy James and Alasdair Austin emerged as the fulcrum of this singing amalgamation in “The sweet and merry month of May” by William Byrd. Both rollicking and ethereal, the Renaissance vignette displayed the group’s distinctive sonority. “Put out into the deep” by David Bednall was a Biblical parable bathed in contemporary harmonics. Unexpected turns of phrase and minute changes of meter and pulse in Joby Talbot’s “The Wishing Tree” played to the singers’ strengths.

The folk song “Bushes and Briars,” in a soothing arrangement by Vaughan Williams for four voices, evolved in a leisurely and sonorous expression. Each of the four singers resounded with individuality while combining to enticing effect. Dark and ominous currents pervaded Allison Willis’ “The Wind’s Warning” (set to a text by British composer Ivor Gurney).

From the deep English choral tradition, “Ah Robyn, gentil Robyn” by William Cornysh was sung by a quartet in winning fashion. The spare vocal line of “So, so, leave off this last lamenting kiss” by Alfonso Ferrabosco provided contrast to the more intricate offerings. “Il bianco e dolce cigno”  by Jacques Arcadelt soared while remaining poised and stylish. 

Five singers created a serene aural tapestry with Orlando Gibbons’ “The Silver Swan.” The Irish tune “The Lark in the clear air” in a fluent arrangement by James Whitbourn, was rendered by all six members with directness and simplicity of utterance, concluding the concert’s first half.

“The Oak and the Ash,” from the same indigenous tradition, opened the post -ntermission segment, reimagined through the prism of contemporary classical textures by Gordon Langford. “Nonsense Madrigals” by György Ligeti pictured the witty and playful side of the Hungarian modernist icon. “Cuckoo in a Pear Tree” satirized pop groups by making each of the vocalists repeatedly hit their lowest notes. “The Alphabet” recited the letters at different pitches. The six vocalists sailed through Ligeti’s tremendously difficult writing.

“Fantasia on English Children’s Songs” by the group’s stalwart director and bass Owain Park was conceived a decade ago for a festival celebrating children. Packing every nursery rhyme imaginable into the setting, Park’s synthesis is inventive but over- long. 

Written in 2016, “Summer Shower” by American composer Cristen Holmes was the first original score conceived for the Gesualdo sextet. Holmes’ setting of a poem by Emily Dickenson matches the warmth of Dickenson’s text. Glints of melody are enveloped in rich vocal colors. The singers’ supple variety of dynamics was especially potent in bringing Holmes’ lovely score to life.

In Sarah Rimkus’ “My heart is like a a singing bird,” the two countertenors took the lead melodic line while the four other members brought dissonant contrast in accompaniment to this contemporary folk tinged opus. Canadian composer Eleanor Daley’s “grandmother moon” brought the concert to a quiet conclusion, with the svelte integration of the six voices beautifully achieved. The entire program displayed the outstanding musicianship and versatility of this fine vocal band.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Gesualdo Six makes a pleasing impression in Miami debut”

  1. Posted Feb 19, 2024 at 1:59 pm by Lewis Grenville

    A deservedly terrific review of a vastly enjoyable and stellar concert. What a fabulous evening.

  2. Posted Feb 19, 2024 at 2:11 pm by Robert Warren

    Having lived in England for a year and attended vocal concerts there, it was a delight to hear the Gesualdo Six demonstrate with great skill how the British style of group singing is so distinctive and pleasing.

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