Thomas Tallis: Songs of Reformation
Alamire, David Skinner
St John’s, Smith Square: Holy Week Festival. 12 April 2017
After the Holy Week Festival showcase Good Friday afternoon St John Passion came a concert focussed on one of England’s finest composers, Thomas Tallis. Living though the reigns of five monarchs (from Henry VII to Elizabeth), and composing in the latter four of them, Tallis managed to negotiate the complex religious twists and turns of Tudor life. The highlights of the evening came at the end, with the first modern performance of David Skinner’s reconstruction of a piece composed by Tallis (an early version of the famous Gaude gloriosa Dei mater), but with new words (See, Lord, and behold) added by Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s eighth and final Queen. Continue reading
John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
Gimell Records CDGIM046. 62’07
John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea, Dum transisset Sabbatum I and II
It is very tempting, and indeed, very enjoyable, to let Renaissance vocal music just waft over you as a seemingly amorphous wave of music, ebbing and flowing like the tide. You can do this with this CD of Taverner’s extraordinary Missa Corona spinea, but from the very start you will realise that this is something very different. Just three notes in (after a rather curious 12 second pause at the start of the first track), the Treble line (sung by a pair of sopranos) soars up to a high B flat. From then on, this Treble line has very little chance to relax, and always seems to be attracted to this high note. This expansive vocal range is a feature of all the movements, and it grabs the attention. For example, in the Credo the Et expecto section starts with two bass lines before the treble enters two and a half octaves above them – the final cadence has a four octave span from top to bottom. The use of a double bass line is also unusual. And if you ever wondered what a Gimell was, there are two examples here, where the Trebles divide into two parts (track 7), later doing the same together another divided part (track 10) to form a double Gimell. This Mass was clearly intended for a special occasion and includes some remarkable features. Continue reading
Mynstrelles with Straunge Sounds
Clare Wilkinson, Rose Consort of Viols
Delphian DCD34169. 67’20
Anon: And I were a maiden, De tous biens plaine, Fortuna desperate; Henry VIII: Helas madame, van Ghizeghem De tous biens plaine; Josquin: De tous biens plaine, attrib. Busnoys: Fortune esperée; Josquin: Fortuna desperate; Penalosa: Vita dulcedo / Agnus Dei II; Agricola: Cecus non iudicat de coloribus; Encina: Triste España; Martini: Des biens amors, La martinella; Josquin: In te Domine speravi; Anon: In te Domine sperabo, La quercia, Biblis; Encina: Fata la parte; Anon: La Spagna; Ponce: La mi sola Laureola; Cornysh: Fa la so; Anchieta: Con amores, la mi madre; Isaac: Agnus Dei II, Josquin: Adieu mes amours.
The Rose Consort is named after an English family of viol makers active around 1600. But for this CD they have gone back 100 years or so to perform on a set of viols based on those depicted on an altarpiece in Bologna dating from 1497, around the time of the very first documentary evidence of a consort of four viols – hence the CDs sub-title of ‘The Earliest consort music for viols’. And it is from Bologna that several of the pieces hail, from the manuscript Bologna Q.18. Continue reading
The Shakespeare Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse continued with its enterprising series of candle-lit musical events with ‘The Spy’s Choirbook’ (8 Feb 2015). The four singers of Alamire (along with The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble) presenting extracts from the British Library’s sumptuous manuscript (Roy 8.g.vii) produced in Antwerp at the workshop of Petrus Imhoff, who changed his name to the more musically appropriate Alamire (A-la-mi-re, as he often signed his name).
Like many musicians of his time, Alamire was a spy who was well acquainted with many of the crowned heads of Europe, including Maximillian, Charles V and Christian II of Denmark. He acted for Henry VIII against the exiled Yorkist pretender, Richard de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. He also presented Henry VIII with many musical gifts, including this enormous parchment manuscript, but amid accusations of counter-espionage he didn’t even receive thanks for his efforts, or his gifts. It was therefore perhaps apt that it turns out that the manuscript was in fact second hand, having been originally intended for Louise XII of France and Anne of Brittany. But, on the death of both of them, Alamire changed the dedication, and some of the words, to Henry and Catherine of Aragon who, like Louise and Anne, were desperate for a child. And so it is that London now has a collection of 34 motets works by the likes of Mouton, Josquin, Isaac and de la Rue.
Alamire’s director, David Skinner, conducted and introduced the story behind the manuscript. The whole manuscript has been recorded by substantially larger Alamire forces. The singing (from Clare Wilkinson, Nicholas Todd, Greg Skidmore and Rob Macdonald) was outstanding, as was the instrumental contributions, although I found the tenor shawm a rather better blend with the cornett and sackbuts than the alto shawm.