Loquebantur: Music from the Baldwin Partbooks

Loquebantur: Music from the Baldwin Partbooks
The Marian Consort (dir. Rory McCleary) & Rose Consort of Viols
Delphian DCD34160. 66’12

Parsons: The Song Called Trumpets; Tallis: Loquebantur variis linguis; Mundy: Adolescentulus sum ego; Byrd: Canon Six in One, O salutaris hostia; Aston: Hugh Astons Maske; Gerarde: Sive vigilem; Bevin: Browning; Ferrabosco: I Da pacem Domine; Lassus: Ubi est Abel; Hollander: Dum transisset Sabbatum; Tallis: Suscipe quaeso Domine; Taverner: Quemadmodum; Mundy: Adhaesit pavimento; Baldwin: Coockow as I me walked; Sheppard: Ave maris stella.

I reviewed The Marian Consort in their concert during the Regensburg Tage Alter Musik festival, where they sang music from the Robert Dow partbooks, dating from the mid-1580s. My review of their CD of that music can be found hereTheir latest CD explores another manuscript from Christ Church Oxford, the Baldwin Partbooks, a very personal collection of pieces that Baldwin would have got to know during his time as a lay clerk at St George’s Windsor and in the Chapel Royal. He is also known as the copyist of My Ladye Nevells Booke. One of the six vocal partbooks is missing, so some detective work and reconstruction has been required. At the end of the manuscript are some untexted, and presumably instrumental, pieces here played by the Rose Consort of Viols.

The CD starts with a fanfare (if such a thing is possible from a viol consort), with ‘The Song Called Trumpets’ byRobert Parsons. A slightly alarming pitch shift leads to the intonation of Tallis’s Loquebantur variis linguis, with its distinctive harmonic twist at the Alleluia cadences. Tallis is known for his scrunchy harmonies, but at the start of the CD it is Mundy and Byrd who feature this aspect most – notably the Byrd O salutaris hostia with its extraordinary use of false relations. Its musical structure, with three pairs of voices singing in canon, is an example of the technical exercises so beloved of Renaissance composers, the preceeding Byrd Canon Six in One, being another example. Baldwin himself is represented by his rather odd little viol trio Coockow as I me walked.

The eight singers of the Marian Consort sing with a bold, confident and coherent tone, my only quibble being with the excessive vibrato from one of the two sopranos. The first soprano, Emma Walshe has a beautifully clean and clear voice, so I do wonder why it has been partnered with such a different style of singing. Some of the lower voices are also rather vibrant, but not as excessively so. The balance of viol consort and vocal music is well thought out, as is the contrast between pieces for small voices and the full choir.

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