Her Heavenly Harmony
Profane Music from the Royal Court
The Queen’s Six
Resonus RES10164. 62’19
Music by Tomkins, Byrd, Morley, Weelkes, Byrd & Tallis.
The UK seems to breed small-scale a capella male choral groups. The aptly named Queen’s Six are one of a particular branch of that breed, with their matching suits and shirts (and, it seems, overcoats) and carefully posed publicity photographs. They are half of the contingent of lay clerks (adult choir singers) at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, an official residence of the Queen as well as her private weekend home. Living within the castle walls, and performing eight or more services a week in the Royal Chapel; the six male singer’s vocal credentials couldn’t be greater. They were formed in 2008 on the 450th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth I, from where they take their name. They seem to be an eclectic group, their work also including taking commissions for arrangements of popular songs for wedding anniversaries.
The programme of this, their second CD is divided into a number of groups, reflecting Royalty, ‘Balletts’, Byrds (and ‘birds’), the Natural World, Dedications, and Love & Death. Some pieces, like Gibbon’s The Silver Swan could easily be allocated to more than one group. The word ‘Balletts’ has its root in madrigals that could be danced to, usually to the accompaniment of fa-la-la’s. The examples chosen retain the fa-la-la’s, but would not be easy to dance to.
One particularly interesting piece is Weelkes’s texturally and harmonically complex six-voice Thule, the period of cosmology / The Andalusian merchant. This is followed by Gibbon’s Fair is the Rose, although the dramatic change of mood is not really reflected in the singing. The most attractive group, for me, was Dedications, with Byrd’s touching lament to Tallis, Ye Sacred Muses, Weelkes mourning lament to Morley, Death hath deprived me together with Tomkins’ more jovial Cloris when as I woo.
There is a remarkable consistency in the singing of The Queen’s Six, both as to tone, volume, and style. The blend is perfect, of course, as is their intonation. The two countertenor voices have a difficult timbre to describe. The closest I can get in the sonic countertenor Venn diagram that encompasses youthful boy-like, wobbly soprano and hooty cathedral is that there is a lean towards the latter and, fortunately, no element of the wobbly. I do wonder whether the texts and moods of some of the pieces might have been better served with a little more flexibility of timbre. Despite the CDs sub-title of ‘Profane Music’, there is nothing to frighten granny or the horses, but a touch more profanity in their voices might have been appropriate. The programme note writer (Peter Philips) makes a rather desperate attempt at pointing out the implications of the word ‘die’, but in reference to a piece (Gibbons Dainty fine bird) where it is blindingly obvious that there is no one iota of double meaning intended. But, whatever I might say, if you like the traditional English cathedral and Oxbridge male-voice sound, I think you will like this.