Tomkins: Choral Works

O Give Thanks Unto the Lord
Tomkins: Choral Works
The Choir of HM Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace
Carl Jackson, conductor, Rufus Frowde, organ
Resonus RES10253. 74’25

Following last year’s recording of Byrd’s Great Service by the Odyssean Ensemble (reviewed here), led by the Musical Directors of the Chapels Royal in HM Tower of London, comes this recording of Thomas Tomkins (another organist to the Chapels Royal) from the Choir of another Chapel Royal on the other side of London, in Hampton Court. This follows their early recording of an early Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) was a pupil of Byrd’s, as referenced by a song dedication To my ancient, and much reverenced Master, William Byrd. Although composing some time after Byrd, Tomkins’ compositions are very much in the Tudor idiom despite the changes of the Stuart era.

This recording includes two settings of the Evensong canticles (the Fourth & Sventh Services) along with verse and psalm anthems. What sets it apart from the Byrd recording is evident from the very start, with the distinctive sound of two boy trebles (Stephan Dyakonov & William James) dueting in Death is swallowed up in victory. Other principal boy soloists are Benedict Foley-Cook, Aimon Heese, Rowan Marshall & Andre Ugalde. The use of boy trebles, rather than sopranos, brings us far closer to Tomkins world than the Byrd recording, as does the recording venue in the Chapel Royal of Hampton Court Palace, the current version of which contains elements of the chapel that Tomkins would have known.

The boy trebles are also a change from the choir’s earlier recording of Tallis, reviewed here which only uses the lower adult male voices of the choir. On that occasion, the six current Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal were joined by up to 8 additional male singers for the multi-part pieces – here the lower voices are just the 8 Gentlement, together with 19 boys.

Although the organ used is a little box continuo organ, and not as distinctive as the Tudor reconstruction of the Byrd recording, it sounds impressive on this recording, and is exceptionally well played by Rufus Frowde, Organist and Deputy Director of the Chapel Royal. His beautifully contoured and neatly articulated playing, both in his accompaniments and the three solo pieces are a key feature of the recording. The first of these, Gloria Tibi Trinitas, demonstrates Tomkin’s affinity with his Tudor forebears Tallis and Byrd No information is given about the temperament of the organ, but it doesn’t sound to me as quite as ‘pure’ as might be expected.

About half the pieces are premiere recordings, and are a very welcome addition to Tomkins recorded works. There are excellent notes by Christian Goursaud one of the Gentlemen and a Research Fellow at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. He and fellow bass Gavin Cranmer-Moralee manage some spectacular low notes in Give sentence with me, O God.   

The Director of the Chapel Royal, Carl Jackson MVO, conducts with musical sensitivity and understanding, delicately moulding phrases and volume changes and encouraging an attractive tone from the singers. His programme is well chosen. It helps to set the scene of a Chapel Royal service in Tomkins’ time by including two examples of a chanted Precis & Response.