The Early Horn

The Early Horn
Ursula Paludan Monberg
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68289. 78’32

One of the most astonishing developments in musical instrument technology came with the elevation of the horn from its role a rather elemental rallying call to 17th-century aristocratic huntsmen to a sophisticated member of 18th-century court orchestras and chamber groups. One of the key aspects of this development was the technique of hand-stopping to alter the pitch. This was combined with the division of the 15 or so feet of tubing of the wound hunting horn into two parts, the smaller changeable crock allowing for changes of key. This recording explores the wide range of music composed for the natural horn during the 18th-century. Continue reading

Dufay: Lament for Constantinople

Guillaume Dufay
Lament for Constantinople & other songs
The Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68236. 70’48

Music, and indeed most art forms, that comes on the cusp of a change in style can be amongst the most fascinating as composers, artists, and architects search out new approaches to their art. The music of Guillaume Dufay represents one such boundary, in his case, that between the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Although substantially Medieval in style, with its complex rhythmic structures and the curious Medieval habit of combining several texts in the same piece, often in different languages, there are clear elements of the forthcoming Renaissance style in Dufay’s music. This impressive recording by The Orlando Consort demonstrates this aspect of his music well in a sequence of 18 tracks, 12 in Rondeau form, 3 Ballades, 2 multi-texted Motets and a single Virelai. Continue reading

Machaut: The Gentle Physician

Guillaume de Machaut
The Gentle Physician
The Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68206. 59’34

This is the sixth recording in The Orlando Consort’s complete Machaut series. It focusses on Machaut’s songs of courtly love and its various ups and, more usually, downs. Lady Fortune is not always a comforting friend, and the opening and closing De Fortune ballads reflect both the positive and negative aspects of her personality. The ‘gentle physician’ (dous mireof the title is Hope, mentioned as the only remedy for unhappy lovers in the extended S’onques dolereusement, also known as Le lay de confort. Machaut (c1300-77) was, and still is, one of the finest 14th-century poet-composers, He was one of the first to whom we have biographical knowledge and a substantive collection of pieces, but also one of the last of the tradition of poet-composers. Part of the ars nova tradition of the Franco-Burgundian region, his compositions set the scene for the late Gothic and early Renaissance style. Continue reading

Antoine de Févin

Antoine de Févin
Missa Ave Maria & Missa Salve sancta parens
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice
Hyperion CDA68265. 79’14

Missa Ave Maria, Ascendens Christus in altum, Sancta Trinitas a5/a6,
Salve sancta parens, Missa Salve sancta parens,

Antoine de Févin (c1470-1511/12) is a relatively unknown composer of the Renaissance Franco-Flemish period He was born around 20 years after Josquin des Prez, but died about 10 years before him. For the past few years of his life, he worked in the Chapelle Royale of Louis XII of France, who apparently thought highly several chansons. His compositional style is similar to Josquin’s, who he admired. The opening Missa Ave Maria is based on Josquin’s well-known Ave Maria. His contrapuntal writing is not as strict as some of his Renaissance contemporaries. He clearly enjoys contrasting homophonic and contrapuntal passages and freely switches from one to the other. There are several magical moments, one of the finest between the Agnus II of the Missa Ave Maria where two outstanding high voices (Kate Ashby and Claire Eadington) weaves threads between themselves. Continue reading

JS Bach/JC Bach/CEP Bach: Magnificats

JS Bach, JC Bach & CPE Bach: Magnificats
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68157. 76’48

This recording has the same programme as the concert in St John’s, Smith Square in October 2015. The CD was recorded a few days after the concert, in the church of St Mary the Virgin and St Mary Magdalen in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, but has only recently been released. The acoustics of this large Gothic church (with its wide nave and tiny side aisles) are more generous than St John’s, Smith Square, giving an added bloom to the sound, although the spacing of the musical forces sometimes gives more of a sense of distance that the more compact London stage avoided. Unlike the concert performance, the CD opens with JS Bach’s 1733 reworking of his earlier E flat version, written for his first Christmas in Lübeck in 1723. It is given a forthright performance without the irritating gaps between movements that I mentioned in the concert review.  Continue reading

Taverner: Western Wynde Mass, Missa Mater Christi sanctissima

Taverner: Western Wynde Mass, Missa Mater Christi sanctissima
The Choir of Westminster Abbey, James O’Donnell
Hyperion CDA68147. 58’36

Jeremy Summerly’s comprehensive programme note opens with the suggestions that “Early Tudor England was insular and the attitude of its people xenophobic”, quoting an Italian visitor in 1497 that “they have a antipathy to foreigners”, an unfortunate habit that sadly still seems to be the case, at least for around 52% of the population. John Taverner was very clearly an exception to this view, at least musically, for he relished the music coming from the continent. This CD indicates two particular influences, with the complex polyphony and imitative writing of the likes of Josquin featuring in the Missa Mater Christi sanctissima and, in the Western Wynde Mass, as Summerly puts it “a Lutheran dexterity in his use of a secular model for a piece of sacred music”. Continue reading

Machaut: A Burning Heart

Machaut: A Burning Heart
The Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68103. 58’58

This is the third of The Orlando Consort’s recordings of Machaut’s secular songs, following on from their ‘Songs of Le Voir Dit’ and ‘The Dart of Love’ CDs. Music like this can be appreciated at many different levels, and perhaps one of the most satisfactory (unless your mediaeval French is up to scratch) is to ignore the programme notes or translations of the text, turn the lighting down and just let the music wash over and through you. Although it might appear disrespectful to the enormous amount of research that has to go into producing a recording like, it really does work as a musical experience.

The Orlando Consort present the tracks on this disc in a way that draws the listener gently into the sound world of the early 14th century. The opening Continue reading

Tallis Lamentations

Tallis Lamentations
The Cardinall’s Musick, Andrew Carwood
Hyperion CDA68121. 75’09

Lamentations of Jeremiah I/II; In pace, in idipsum; Lord have mercy upon us: Short Service ‘Dorian’ (Responses, Credo, Sanctus, Gloria); Not every one that saith unto me; Solemnis urgebat dies; Sancte Deus; Dum transisset Sabbatum; Why brag’st in malice high; Salvator mundi I; Te deum ‘for meanes’; Come, Holy Ghost.

Tallis Thomas Lamentations Andrew Carwood HyperionThis is the penultimate recording in The Cardinal’s Musick’s Tallis Edition, and it opens with a masterpiece, the two settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. As Andrew Carwood explains in his programme notes, it seems that they were written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, rather than the earlier Catholic Queen Mary. It is not clear why these, and other similar Lamentations, were composed or when they would have been performed, if not in the Holy Week Tenebrae service in the Catholic rite – hence the usual assumption of composition during Queen Mary’s reign. They are remarkable pieces, using the simple textural style of one note per syllable encouraged by Archbishop Cranmer. The Hebrew incipits are particularly well set, as are the concluding, and rather sombre Continue reading

A Time to Dance

Alex Roth: A Time to Dance
Ex Cathedra. Jeffry Skidmore
Hyperion CDA68144. 71’52

A Time to Dance; Magnificat and Nunc dimittis ‘Hatfield Service’; Men & Angels.

The Birmingham based choir, Ex Cathedra has long been at the forefront of British choral music, notably through their educational work and concerts and recordings of early music and Baroque music from Central and South America, a particular research interest for their inspirational director, Jeffry Skidmore. But they also venture into more recent repertoire, as evidenced by their latest CD of music by Alex Roth.

Commissioned for the Summer Music Society of Dorset for their 50th anniversary, the cantata A Time to Dance was first performed by Ex Cathedra in 2012. It is in four sections, representing jointly the seasons and the times of day, with an opening Processional and Prologue and a concluding Epilogue and After-dance, and lasts about an hour. Another quadruple influence is present in the opening Processional, based on the ‘For every thing there is a season’ passage from Ecclesiastes and its emphasis on times, seasons, love and dance. The remaining sections are based on 29 poems, ranging from Ovid via Donne, Herrick, Blake, and Yeats to the more recent Robert Bridges. The music is influenced by Shakespeare, Bach and Jeffry Skidmore, with whom the composer has worked over recent years. Continue reading

Conductus 3: Music & Poetry from 13th century France

Conductus 3: Music & Poetry from 13th century France
John Potter, Christopher O’Gorman, Rogers Covey-Crump
Hyperion CDA68115. 61’35

The link between early music performance and academic musicological study has always been close, but seems to be becoming even more so with a number of recent projects stemming directly from research backed by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). One such is the project ‘Cantum pulcriorem invenire: Thirteenth-Century Music and Poetry’, based at Southampton University, headed by Mark Everist (details here). The Cantum pulcriorem invenire (“To find a more beautiful melody”) title is, not surprisingly reduced to the more manageable CPI. As well as three recordings and related live concerts, there is an on-line database, and Mark Everist has also published a monograph ‘Discovering Song: Thirteenth-Century Latin Poetry and Music’ through Cambridge University Press.

This is the third CD to have come from this project, which explores the world of the conductus in 13th century France – arguably the “first consistent repertory of newly-composed polyphony in the history of music”. In contrast Continue reading

Brazilian Adventures – Ex Cathedra

Brazilian Adventures
Ex Cathedra
, Jeffrey Skidmore
Hyperion CDA68114. 77’46

José Maurício Nunes Garcia: Missa pastoril para a noite de natal;
André da Silva Gomes: Missa a 8 vozes e instrumentos;
José Joaquim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita: Padre nosso, Ave Maria, Gloria;
Luís Álvares Pinto: Beata virgo, Oh! Pulchra es, Lição de solfejo;
Theodoro Cyro de Souza: Ascendit Deus; Anon: Matais de incêndios

I vividly remember a concert that Ex Cathedra gave in London about 10 years ago when they performed music by the Bolivian composer Juan de Araujo. At the time, a number of groups had been exploring South American music of the baroque ere, but Ex Cathedra was the only one that really seemed to understand it. One group preceded their concert with a talk by a South American specialist who spoke enthusiastically about the use of percussion instruments, and then proceeded with a concert with no percussion at all! The sensitive and musical use of percussion was one of the many aspects of the music that Ex Cathedra got exactly right. However percussion doesn’t get as much of a look as in their earlier concerts, or related CDs.

A reflection of those earlier Ex Cathedra takes on South American music can be heard on tracks 1 and 22 of this CD, Continue reading

Tallis – Ave, Dei patris filia

Tallis – Ave, Dei patris filia
The Cardinal’s Musick, Andrew Carwood
Hyperion CDA68095. 71’58

Honor, Virtus Et Potestas; Candidi Facti Sunt Nazarei; Homo Quidam Fecit Coenam; Ave, Dei Patris Filia; Christ Rising Again; Out from the Deep; Short Service: O Lord, Open Thou Our Lips; Venite; E’en Like the Hunted Hind; Expend, O Lord; Te Deum; Benedictus; The Lord Be With You; Litany.

The latest release in The Cardinall’s Musick Tallis Edition focuses on some lesser-known, but nonetheless fascinating pieces. The piece that gives the CD its title is one of Tallis’s earliest works, but probably not the first. It is nearly 16 minutes of rather convoluted praise to the Virgin Mary in which Tallis shows a considerable amount of early promise, not least in some of what was to become his trademark harmonic twists and turns. Detective work by David Allison has not only reconstructed the work from its surviving incomplete state, but has also explored the similarities between it and Robert Fayrfax’s setting of the same text. I would have preferred it to have started the disc (not least to match the order of the liner notes), but it appears after three opening Latin Responsories, the only other pieces in Latin.

The three Responsories have a complex structure of plainchant Continue reading

Bach, Handel, Scarlatti – Gamba Sonatas

Bach, Handel, Scarlatti – Gamba Sonatas
Steven Isserlis, cello, Richard Egarr, harpsichord
Hyperion CDA68045

Bach: Sonata in G major, G minor, D major, BWV1027/9;
Scarlatti: Sonata in D minor, Kk90;

Handel: Violin Sonata in G minor, HWV364b.

This recording comes with several health warnings, not least the fact that none of the five featured Sonatas are quite what they seem. The three Bach sonatas were, as the CD title implies, intended for the viola da gamba. The Scarlatti Sonata was probably intended for solo harpsichord although there is an argument that it, and some of its fellow sonatas, could have been performed as a violin sonata. The Handel Sonata was originally for oboe but was transcribed for the violin with a scribbled note that it could be played on the viola da gamba. None were intended for the cello. Continue reading

Compère: Magnificat, Motets and Chansons

Compère: Magnificat, Motets and Chansons
Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68069. 68’22

Loyset Compère is not as well-known as he deserves to be, and this recording could be the means by which his (recently re-assessed) place in musical history is acknowledged. The key to the re-assessment is the slightly embarrassing realisation that the Josquin that musicologists assumed to have been born in 1440 was not, in fact, Josquin des Prez, but another Josquin altogether. That makes Josquin des Prez around 10 years younger than thought. Similar birth date realignment concerning Obrecht and Agricola also make them younger than first thought. As David Fallows explains in his comprehensive programme notes, this leaves Loyset Compère as one of the earliest composers in the imitative style, now known to be later developed, rather than instigated, by Josquin and others. Continue reading

Jacquet of Mantua – Missa Surge Petre & motets

Jacquet of Mantua – Missa Surge Petre & motets
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice (conductor)
Hyperion CDA68088.  76’39

Surge Petre, Missa Surge Petre, Ave Maria a 3, O vos omnes, In illo tempore … Non turbetur, O pulcherrima inter mulieres, Domine, non secundum peccata nostra.

You would be forgiven for not having heard of the Renaissance composer, Jacquet of Mantua (1483-1559), and can blame the oddities of personal names at the time. He was known by a variety of names in his day, including Jachet de Mantoue, Iachet da Mantova, Iachetus Gallicus, Jacques Colebault or Collebaudi, but usually simply as Iachet (= Jack). He has also been confused with other composers, particularly Jacquet de Berchem. Born in Brittany in 1483, Jacquet of Mantua moved to Italy sometime before 1520, finally settling at the Gonzaga court in Mantua around 1527, following a year in Ferrara Continue reading