See, See, the Word is incarnate
Choral & Instrumental music by Gibbons, Tomkins & Weelkes
The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge,
Newe Vialles, Orpheus Britannicus Vocal Consort, Andrew Arthur
Resonus Classics RES10295. 70’51
The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, under the College’s Director of Music, Andrew Arthur, follow their previous recording of Buxtehude (reviewed here) with this exploration of some of the best-known music from the early decades of the 17th-century. This was the period when James I was on the throne of the two kingdoms of Scotland and England. Gibbons and Weelkes were both dead by the end of his reign (in 1625), but Tomkins (the first-born of the three) lived on until 1656 to witness, at considerable personal loss, the collapse of the Stuart dynasty and the Commonwealth.
For those who came to this recital, despite the travel problems, the encore that I played was Thomas Tomkins: “Sad Paven for these distracted times”
It seemed appropriate
“Upon thes nots“
Two 450th anniversaries – Thomas Tomkins & Michael Praetorius
Andrew Benson-Wilson, organ
St George’s, Hanover Square, London W1S 1FX
1 March 2022, 1:10
This recital contrasts the contrasting music of two composers born 600 miles apart, 450 years ago. It also reflects the way in which the two composers treat melodic lines, whether in the form of a powerful Lutheran hymn or the seven-note plainchant-based phrase upon which Tomkins based his monumental Offertory, noting in the opening bar that the piece was based “upon thes nots“.
Thomas Tomkins 1572–1656
“For Mr Arc[hdeacon] ThornBurgh”
“Mr Thomas Tomkins offertorye” [upon thes nots] (1637)
Michael Praetorius 1571-1621
O lux beata Trinitas (Hymnodia Sionia, 1611)
Chorale Fantasia: Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (Musæ Sioniæ VII, 1609)
Thomas Tomkins was organist of Worcester Cathedral until its closure during the Civil War as well as the Chapel Royal in London. Michael Praetorius was organist and Kapellmeister in the courts of the Duke of Wolfenbüttel and the Elector of Saxony in Dresden.
The concert is given on the Richards, Fowkes & Co organ in Handel’s church of St George’s Hanover Square as part of the Mayfair Organ Concerts series. Admission is free, with a retiring collection.
The programme notes can be found here.
‘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
“A daynty fine verse”
St Swithun’s, Worcester, 31 July 2015
Music by Thomas Tomkins, William Hayes and from early 16th century manuscripts, played on the reconstructed c1530 ‘Wetheringsett’, and the 1795 Grey organs by
This is the listing of some of my forthcoming organ recitals from the very last issue of the now defunct Early Music Review diary, for many years put together by Helen Shabetai every month.
The recital in Worcester on 31 July will mostly be played on the ‘Wetheringsett’ organ, a reconstruction of a medieval English organ based on a fragment of an East Anglian organ dating from around 1525. Thomas Tomkins was organist at Worcester Cathedral. He was also an avid collector of earlier music, dating from around the time of the Wetheringsett organ. I will be playing music by Tomkins and from the earlier manuscripts that Tomkins owned and commented on – “A daynty fine verse” being just one of his comments. I will also play an Organ Concerto by William Hayes, an 18th century Worcester Cathedral organist, on the 1795 Gray organ. Continue reading
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).