Gesualdo Six: English Motets

English Motets
Gesualdo Six, Owain Park
Choral music of the English Renaissance
St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
First broadcast 15 April 2021

The relationship between the Church of England and musicans has not always been an easy one. In London, two examples of turmoil in recent years have been the decision by St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in Holborn (historially known as The National Musicians’ Church and for many decades a well-known concert and rehearsal venue) to ban musicians from hiring the church for rehearsals and concerts following a take over by an Evangeical wing of the church. This was followed by a similar situation at St Martin-in-the-Fields, a venue that over the years has attracted an enormous number of visitors to the regular candlelit and other concerts promoted by individual orchestras and musicians. They stopped all outside musicians hiring and replaced it with a plan to bring all concerts in-house using their own musicians, although it does seem that at least some of the groups that helped bring international attention to the church will be giving concerts there later this year. Following these controveries, the notion of a ‘Musicians’ church’ is now subsumed with a website with around 22 churhes who are still willing to let musicians hire their buildings for music.

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Spitalfields Music: ‘Sound House’

Spitalfields Music
‘Sound House’
The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, Jon Nicholls
The Octagon, Queen Mary University of London. 8 December 2016

Music by Jon Nicholls, Tobias Hume, William Lawes, William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins, Orlando Gibbons.

WP_20161208_18_44_05_Pro.jpgFor many years now, Spitalfields Music has been spreading its wings way beyond its original home in Spitalfields, both for its major programme of community work and for venues for its musical and other performances. It is now a major arts and community organisation covering the whole of the East End of London. Among the venues for this year’s winter festival (which included a hidden Masonic Temple) was The Octagon, built in 1887 as part of the grand premises of the People’s Palace, described in The Times on its opening as a “happy experiment in practical Socialism”. It is now the home of Queen Mary University of London. The architect, ER Robson (best known for his influential school designs), used the British Museum Reading Room for inspiration in designing the octagonal library.

Image result for Bacon Sound housesMore ‘happy experiments’ were in evidence in the programme ‘Sound House’ given by The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments (SSAI). It was based on the 17th century scientific writings and acoustic experiments of Francis Bacon, as described in his posthumously published Sylva Sylcarum and New Atlantis. In the latter vision of a new society, Bacon promoted the idea of Sound Houses where his acoustic experiments could be continued and better appreciated by the populace. Bacon’s musical ideas might seem commonplace today, not least through the medium of electronics and manipulated sound, and his experimental approach to sound is a key feature of many musicians today.

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‘Great King of Gods’

‘Great King of Gods’
Magdalena Consort, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, Silas Wollston
Royal Greenwich Early Music Festival
St Margaret’s, Lee Terrace, Blackheath. 22 November 2016

Music by Gibbons, Byrd, and Tomkins

The predecessor building of the 17th century former Greenwich Royal Navel College (now part of the University of Greenwich, and usually the home of the Royal Greenwich Early Music Festival ) was the curiously named Palace of Placentia (or Pleasaunce). It survived from 1443 to 1660 and was the birthplace and, later, the principal home of Henry VIII and his daughters, Queen Mary, and Elizabeth I. James I and Charles I continued to use it as their main residence up to the Civil War, when it fell into disrepair. Records of musical activities are scant but, according to the rather curiously worded programme notes, there is a reference from the time of James I of the Chapel Royal singing anthems for him with ‘organs, cornets, sagbot, and other excellent instruments of music‘.

The concert given by the Magdalena Consort and His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts aimed to recreate some of the drama of those early 17th century royal Continue reading

Spitalfields Music: Cries of London

Spitalfields Music: Cries of London
Red Byrd, Fretwork
St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. 4 December 2015

Spitalfields Music approach their 40th anniversary year with an ever increasing reputation of inspired support and encouragement for music in the Tower Hamlet area of east London. Alongside their Summer and Winter Festivals, they run an enormous programme of community projects, reachinThe Cries of Londong some 30,000 people a year. Their latest Winter Festival opened (in Shoreditch parish church) with a very apt programme based on the early 17th century vogue for composing music based on the hubbub of London’s street sellers and criers, reflecting a tradition of loudly publicising wares that exists to this day in placed like the nearby Petticoat Market.

In a well-planned programme built around Orlando Gibbons’ Cries of London and Richard Dering’s Country Cries Continue reading

The Virtuoso Organist: Tudor and Jacobean Masterworks

The Virtuoso Organist: Tudor and Jacobean Masterworks
Stephen Farr, organ, Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge Resonus RES10143. 68’35
William Byrd, John Bull, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins, John Blitheman & Orlando Gibbons. 2013 Taylor & Boody Opus 66 organ, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

The programme on this CD is designed to demonstrate the new 7-stop chamber organ in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.  It is designed in a 16th to early 17th century Dutch/North German style, one arguably similar to that of the English organ of the same period, about which we know very little as far as the sound is concerned.

The programme covers the English organ repertoire from about 1540 to 1637.  Tallis’s Ecce tempus idoneum and the anonymous Bina caelestis and Magnificat include chanted verses sung by the men of Sidney Sussex College Choir in the ‘alternatim’ tradition of the period.   The musical highlight is Farr’s magnificent performance of Thomas Tomkins’s monumental Offertory, at over 17 minutes long, one of the most complex examples of a uniquely English genre. It was very likely influenced by the two large-scale Tallis examples in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Stephen Farr’s control of the pulse and build up of tension in this remarkable piece is exemplary – he demonstrates similar skill in Orlando Gibbons Fantasia (the Fancy in Gam ut flat) and the concluding Byrd A Fancie, from ‘My Ladye Nevells Booke’ (1591).

Tallis himself is represented by two verses on Ecce tempus idoneaum, featuring the prominent ‘false relations’ so typical of Tallis. The earliest pieces are from the enormous British Library Add. 26669 collection, dating from around 1540/50 and later owned and annotated by Tomkins – the hymn setting of Bina caelestis and a Magnificat by an anonymous composer that could well be Thomas Preston. The secular repertoire is represented by John Bull’s Galliard ‘to the Pavin in D sol re’ and Coranto Joyeuse, the latter using the delightfully pungent Vox Virginia reed stop.

Although he allows himself an occasional flourish (notably in the anonymous Bina caelestis) Farr’s playing is methodical in a way that is entirely appropriate for recordings.  His interpretations will repay repeated listening, with no risk of annoying mannerisms.  In live performance one might expect a little more flexibility in interpretation, but such individualisms can be tricky when set in recorded stone. His articulation and touch are attractively subtle.  We can hear the occasional slight pairing of notes (for example, in track 4, John Bull’s In nomine II) but he otherwise wears his period performance credentials lightly.

The organ sounds very effective in this repertoire, and speaks into a helpful acoustic.  It is tuned in a very appropriate (but not quite meantone) temperament devised for the restoration of the famous late 17th century Schnitger organ in Norden, Germany. A reasonable solution, not least as there are several parts of the English organ repertoire of this period that can sound weird in meantone temperament, even if that could well have been the tuning of the period.  The CD notes include comprehensive essays on the music (by Magnus Williamson) and the organ (by the organ builder, George Taylor).

http://www.resonusclassics.com/organ/the-virtuoso-organist-stephen-farr

The Virtuoso Organist: Tudor and Jacobean Masterworks

[https://andrewbensonwilson.org/2015/04/03/the-virtuoso-organist-tudor-and-jacobean-masterworks/]

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