An Emerald in a Work of Gold

An Emerald in a Work of Gold
The Marian Consort
Delphian DCD34115. 72’49

An Emerald in a Work of GoldThere is a current trend of building CD and concert programmes on collections of pieces made by others, one example being the Marian Consort & Rose Consort of Viols CD ‘An Emerald in a Work of Gold’. The music was drawn from the Robert Dow partbooks, copied in the mid-1580s and now housed in the library of Christ Church, Oxford. As well as being a major source of music of the period (with 134 pieces), Dow’s manuscripts are fine examples of musical calligraphy. The music is indicated as being suitable for voices and viols, so the pairing of the Marian Consort and the Rose Consort is appropriate, the latter providing accompaniment for five solo songs as well as instrumental solos.

The clear and focussed voice of soprano Emma Walshe is a highlight of the CD (in, for example, Tallis’s O salutaris hostia). She also provides a beautifully clear and stable upper line to the consort singing. Unfortunately her fellow soprano displays rather too much vibrato for my tastes – and, I suggest, for the style of the music that the Marian Consort specialise in. That aside, the consort sound is excellent, with a good balance between all the voices. Other impressive solos come from countertenor (and Marian’s director) Rory McCleery’s and his lovely singing of Strogers’ tiny ‘A doleful deadly pang’.

The anonymous ‘Come, Holy Ghost’ is an interesting example of the musical trickery beloved by composers of the period, for beneath the vocal prayer lies the popular In nomine structure, based on the Benedictus of Taverner’s Gloria tibi Trinitas Mass, and the inspiration for many works. Dow includes ten such settings, of which four are included on this recording.

The CD is recorded in the chapel of All Souls College, Oxford, an appropriate venue given that Dow was Bursar of Laws there during the time that he was writing the partbooks. Whether your inclination is to let Renaissance vocal music just waft over you, or if have the musical dexterity to follow all the complex lines, this CD is recommended. And if you are one of the former category, do have a go at following the contrapuntal lines. Your brain might hurt at times, but it is worth it.

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