A Renaissance Christmas

A Renaissance Christmas
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers

Coro, COR16167. 67’11

A Renaissance Christmas

The publicity blurb that came with this CD refers to it as “a perfect alternative to traditional carols”, and it certainly is. Perhaps trying to seek forgiveness for their 2015 release, The Complete Traditional Christmas Carols Collection (recorded in 1991), The Sixteen here concentrate on music from the Renaissance era. They bring their particular brand of highly professional choral singing to a well-balanced sequence of pieces from composers born between 1505 and 1580, a period when the Renaissance reached its zenith as religion in Europe reached one of its periodic nadirs. Continue reading

Andrew Benson-Wilson – Organ recital: ‘From England’

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays organ music
‘From England’

Biel organ 4.jpg

Stadtkirche (Temple Allemand)
Biel/Bienne, Switzerland
21 September 2018, 12:30

A recital on the reconstruction of the original 1517 ‘Swallow’s nest’ organ (Hochwandorgel) in the Stadtkirche (Temple Allemand) Biel/Bienne. Music by Anon, Dunstable, Preston, Tallis, Byrd, and Bull, the latter played on the Hauptorgel.

Anon: Robertsbridge Codex (c1360) Estampie
John Dunstable (c1390-1453) Sub Tuam Protectionem
Anon (c1530) Felix Namque
Thomas Preston (c1500-1563) Uppon la mi re
Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585) Alleluia Per te Dei genitrix
William Byrd (1538-1623) Callino Casturame
John Bull (1562-1628) Salve Regina (5 verses) Continue reading

BBC Prom 73: Tallis Scholars

Before the Ending of the Day
Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
Royal Albert Hall, 6 September 2018

The late-night concert on 6 September, following the Britten War Requiem, was a quasi-liturgical performance of the service of Compline, the concluding service of the daily eight canonical hours in Catholic liturgy. After the concluding litany of the War Requiem: “Let us sleep now” it was an appropriate add-on. Traditionally followed in monastic settings by the ‘Great Silence’ that lasted until the first service of the morning, its roots go back to St Benedict at the beginning of the sixth century. The name of the service comes from the word ‘complete’ reflecting the completion of the working day – or, in this case, for most of us, the end of a musical day.  Continue reading

Gabrieli Consort: A Rose Magnificat

A Rose Magnificat
The Gabrieli Consort, Paul McCreesh
St John’s, Smith Square. 8 June 2017

Leighton Of a Rose  /  Tallis Videte Miraculum á 6
Warlock As dew in Aprylle  /  White Magnificat á 6
Macmillan  /  Sheppard  /  Park Ave maris stella
Wylkynson Salve Regina á 9  /  Howells Salve Regina
Lane There is no rose  /  Matthew Martin Rose Magnificat (world premiere)

This fascinating concert collected together a seemingly random selection of pieces from old to very new, all dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Grouping the pieces in twos or three enhanced the experience of contrast, starting with the pairing of Kenneth Leighton’s setting of the 15th century text Of a Rose with Tallis’s magnificent 6-part Videte Miraculum. Soprano Ruth Provost was the soloist in the Leighton, weaving the refrain Of a Rose around and through the rhythmically homophonic choir texture. The contrasting tight-knit and multi-stranded polyphony of Tallis, with his distinctive ‘false relations’ provided a perfect contrast. This pair was followed by the slithering close harmonies of Warlock’s short and rhythmically complex double choir As dew in Aprylle, contrasted with White flamboyant and expansive six-plus part Magnificat, the continuous inner movement and long melismas of the latter giving the piece a timeless quality. Continue reading

Tallis: Songs of Reformation

Thomas Tallis: Songs of Reformation
Alamire, David Skinner
St John’s, Smith Square: 
Holy Week Festival. 12 April 2017

WP_20170415_18_59_25_Pro.jpgAfter 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

Baldwin Partbooks II: Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child
Music from the Baldwin Partbooks II
Contrapunctus, Owen Rees
Signum Classics SIGCD474. 75’18

Tallis: Gaude gloriosa Dei mater, Magnificat, Videte miraculum; and pieces by Taverner, White, Fayrfax, and Sheppard.

SIGCD474_HiW.jpgThe Baldwin Partbooks were copied in the 1570s and 80s by a member of the choirs of St George’s Windsor and the Chapel Royal, John Baldwin. They included printed pieces as well as Baldwin’s manuscript copies of music, from an earlier age, resulting in one of the most important surviving collections of polyphony from the reigns of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor. This, combined with a focus on music dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is the focus of the music on this volume, the second in the Contrapunctus series on music of the Baldwin Partbooks (the first was In the Midst of Life, SIGCD408).  Continue reading

Spitalfields Music: 40th Summer Festival

Spitalfields Music: 40th Summer Festival

WP_20160608_18_44_07_Pro.jpgSpitalfields Music has been an extraordinary musical and community success since its foundation 40 years ago. Starting life with a 1966 concert to help save Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architecturally important Christ Church Spitalfields (which was then, unbelievably, under threat of demolition) it soon grew into a ‘Summer Festival of Music’ led by Richard Hickox. Initially under the auspices of the Friends of Christ Church, it became an independent organisation and charity in 1989, setting up their continuing community and education programme two years later. Under the artistic and managerial leadership of the likes of Judith Serota, Michael Berkely, Judith Weir, Jonathan Dove, Diana Burrel, Abigail Pogson and the current Chief Executive, Eleanor Gussman, it has grown into an major musical and community force in London, sharing their passion for music with nearly half and million people, attracting more than 325,000 audience members to events in more than 70 venues in the Spitalfields and Tower Hamlets area. Alongside their Summer and Winter Festivals, they run an enormous Learning & Participation programme involved more than 125,000 people.

They have traditionally focussed on early and contemporary music, commissioning many new works from present day composers to create 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

The Sixteen: The Deer’s Cry

The Sixteen: The Deer’s Cry
Coro COR16140. 66’52

Tallis/Byrd: Miserere nostri
Tallis: When Jesus went into Simon the Pharisee’s house.
Byrd: Diliges Dominum, Christe qui Lux Miserere mihi, Domini, Tribue Domine, Emendemus in melius, O Lux beata Trinitas, Ad Dominum cum tribularer, Laetentur coeli;
Pärt: The Deer’s Cry, Nunc dimittis The Woman With The Alabaster Box;

The Deer’s Cry: The Sixteen sing Pärt, Byrd & TallisIf you are mathematically minded, this might be the CD for you. Some of the most complex examples of English contrapuntal wizardry from Tallis and Byrd are balanced by more recent, but equally complex and evocative music, from the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt. As the programme note explains, “Here, Tallis and Byrd meet Pärt on common ground”, although at times, Pärt’s music can sound earlier than that of Tallis and Byrd with its sense of mediaeval structure and texture. This CD will whet your appetite for The Sixteen’s 2016 Choral Pilgrimage, when you can experience this music performed live in some of the most beautiful venues the UK can offer.

The CD opens with Byrd’s extraordinary eight-voice Diliges Dominum, a palindrome (or ‘crab canon’) that sounds exactly the same (words excepted) whether performed forwards or backwards. Almost certainly an act of pure Continue reading

Chapelle du Roi: The Marriage of England and Spain

The Marriage of England and Spain
Chapelle du Roi, Alistair Dixon
St John’s Smith Square, 12 December 2015

WP_20151212_20_22_14_Pro.jpgThe marriage between the Queen Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain only lasted from 1554 to Mary’s death in 1558, but the resulting musical influence lasted for many years, as demonstrated in this concert from the vocal group Chapelle du Roi. Amongst the musicians that Philip brought with him to England was Philippe de Monte, director of the Spanish Chapel Royal. He seems to have met the young William Byrd during his few months in England. Many years later, after the 1583 execution of Mary Queen of Scots and the crushing of a Catholic revolt, de Monte wrote his motet Super flumina Babylonis (‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’) and sent it to Byrd. De Monte set four verses from the Psalm (137), and Byrd’s response was to write his own setting of de Monte’s final verse, adding a further three verses, and sending this motet, Quomodo Cantabimus, to de Monte.  These two pieces 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

Loquebantur: Music from the Baldwin Partbooks

Loquebantur: Music from the Baldwin Partbooks
The Marian Consort (dir. Rory McCleary) & Rose Consort of Viols
Delphian DCD34160. 66’12

Parsons: The Song Called Trumpets; Tallis: Loquebantur variis linguis; Mundy: Adolescentulus sum ego; Byrd: Canon Six in One, O salutaris hostia; Aston: Hugh Astons Maske; Gerarde: Sive vigilem; Bevin: Browning; Ferrabosco: I Da pacem Domine; Lassus: Ubi est Abel; Hollander: Dum transisset Sabbatum; Tallis: Suscipe quaeso Domine; Taverner: Quemadmodum; Mundy: Adhaesit pavimento; Baldwin: Coockow as I me walked; Sheppard: Ave maris stella.

I reviewed The Marian Consort in their concert during the Regensburg Tage Alter Musik festival, where they sang music from the Robert Dow partbooks, dating from the mid-1580s. My review of their CD of that music can be found hereTheir latest CD explores another manuscript from Christ Church Oxford, the Baldwin Partbooks, a very personal collection of pieces that Baldwin would have got to know during his time as a lay clerk at St George’s Windsor and in the Chapel Royal. He is also known as the copyist of My Ladye Nevells Booke. One of the six vocal partbooks is missing, so some detective work and reconstruction has been required. At the end of the manuscript are some untexted, and presumably instrumental, pieces here played by the Rose Consort of Viols. Continue reading

Tenebrae by Candlelight

Tenebrae by Candlelight
Chapelle du Roi – Alistair Dixon director
St John’s, Smith Square, 1 April 2015

Palestrina: Lamentations, Gesualdo: Tenebrae Responds, Victoria: O Domine Jesu, Mass: Ave Regina, Ave Regina Coelorum, de Monte: Super Flumina Babylonis, Tallis: Lamintations I&II,  In Jejunio et Fletu, Derelinquit Impius, Byrd: Emendemus in Melius, Guerrero: O Domine Jesu.

The regular pre-Christmas and pre-Easter concerts in St John’s, Smith Square given by the vocal group Chapelle du Roi continued with one of their best yet as they celebrated ‘Tenebrae by Candlelight’.  ‘Celebrated’ is a loose term, as this was not a liturgical reconstruction, but a reflection on the music for Holy Week generally intended for use during the Tenebrae service.  The monastic service of Tenebrae was a combination of the office of Matins, normally sung just before sunrise, and the sunrise service 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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