HERE is a piece I had not even heard of: “Lagrime di San Pietro,” a chorale work by the ambiguously Italian composer Orlando di Lasso (who is usually described as Flemish). The Los Angeles Master Chorale put on this Renaissance work, directed by classical wildman Peter Sellars, about a week ago at Disney Hall. Despite my lack of knowledge of most chorale music, I took chance with the concert and was amazed by the weight of of emotion and lonely suffering of the whole thing. Singing lines written by poet Luigi Tansillo, the Master Chorale reached deep into the human soul.
From Mark Swed’s lovely Los Angeles Times review:
Normally, we turn to death-invoking music for its transformative powers. The final great works of Beethoven (the late string quartets), Mozart (the unfinished Requiem) or Mahler (the Ninth Symphony’s probe of dying embers) help us transcend despair. Di Lasso’s “Lagrime,” however, is by a deeply depressed composer in the days before meds, someone who only wants his misery to end. It did in 1594, three weeks after finishing the score.
Even as an agnostic (and one who knows only a few word of Italian) I found the power of this cycle about a dejected man reconciling with Christ almost overwhelming. Swed’s judgement:
“Lagrime” is a major accomplishment for the Master Chorale, which sang and acted brilliantly. It is also a major accomplishment for music history. The company hopes to keep this production alive, touring it, and if the music business chooses to honor the just, that will be a saint’s compensation.
I’ve not seen anything by the Master Chorale in years, but will look forward to what they do next. And I’m eager to see more verse by Luigi Tansillo.