30 Dec 2019

Nowell synge we bothe al and som

Nowell synge we bothe al and som
A Feast of Christmas Music in Medieval England
Gothic Voices



It seems extraordinary that this should be Gothic Voices’ first Christmas-themed album; nevertheless, it has been worth the wait to hear these well-known works performed by this ensemble. Choosing music for the Advent and Christmas season, including the Feast of the Annunciation (commonly referenced at Christmas in medieval times), Gothic Voices certainly don’t shy away from much-loved treasures such as the 14th-century Angelus ad virginem, where solo verses alternate with sprightly three-part harmony. Their textures are always buoyant: listen for the fourth verse, which describes the Virgin’s swollen womb, where they use an atmospheric vocalised drone. [...]

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Jan 2020)

29 Dec 2019

Antoine Brumel: From Darkness Into Light

Antoine Brumel: From Darkness Into Light
The complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday
Musica Secreta

A tale of two Florentine manuscripts copied by the scribe Fra Antonio Moro leads the intrepid musicologist Laurie Stras to create another superb album with Musica Secreta. The first manuscript yields the complete Lamentations for Good Friday by Antoine Brumel (c1460-c1512), previously recorded by The Tallis Scholars (Gimell, 9/92), when only the verses beginning with letters Heth and Caph were known. Stras’s discovery almost doubles the length of the work and delightfully complicates its function. Falling, now, into five sections, liturgical performance seems unlikely, pointing instead to devotional use. Musica Secreta begin rather carefully, the almost equal part-ranges suiting their mix of female voices as singers’ personalities delicately delineate vocal lines. The work, and indeed the performance, really begins to reveal its true richness at the first refrain, ‘Ierusalem convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum’. Supported by the gentle uplift of Claire Williams’s organ-playing and the sinewy tone of Alison Kinder’s viol, the sopranos find a sweet resonance as they lean into the phrases without losing overall blend. The result is a wonderfully radiant sound that allows individual voices to ring through. [...]


To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Jan 2020)

8 Dec 2019

Gesualdo: Madrigali, Libri primo & secondo

Gesualdo: Madrigali, Libri primo & secondo
Les Arts Florissants and Paul Agnew
Harmonia Mundi HAF890530708


Some 30 years ago Iain Fenlon referred to Les Arts Florissants’ initial Gesualdo disc as their ‘first foray into the schizophrenic world of Gesualdo’s five-voice madrigals’ (10/88). His words encapsulated perfectly a common overarching view of Gesualdo’s virtuoso chromaticism which suited the text-centred, quick-fire responses of William’s Christie’s original singers so well. Now the ensemble return to Gesualdo’s madrigals with Paul Agnew at the helm and a new generation of voices as they celebrate their 40th-anniversary concerts. Beginning with Books 1 and 2, we encounter lesser-known and less extrovert works but find the ensemble crackling with that same intellectual energy.

[...]

With the sound of their Award-winning Monteverdi madrigals (1/15, 7/15, 2/17) fresh in our ears, this new disc, also made from live recordings, offers fresh views of that famous madrigalian fork-in-the-road: Monteverdi’s experimental laboratory veered towards monody, Gesualdo’s led him to push further into the polyphonic web, fracturing texts and harmonies. The sheer inquisitive delight that these singers bring to Gesualdo’s extraordinary world indicates a very exciting series ahead.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Dec 2019)

7 Dec 2019

Palestrina: Lamentations

Palestrina: Lamentations
Cinquecento
Hyperion CDA68284



Palestrina’s second book of Lamentations is surprisingly passionate, and this performance in particular is a gentle reminder that the spacious, clear polyphony of the Ars Perfecta did not preclude a great deal of passionate nuance. Cinquecento – like a European chapel choir of the Renaissance – brings together a fine selection of singers from across the continent, forming a true European union. Their performance of these Lamentations adheres closely to the text, balancing each madrigalian nuance within the overall phrase architecture. Their sound is reminiscent of The Hilliard Ensemble, particularly in the delightful interplay of their two well-matched tenors and the warmth of the overall blend captured through a close, warm recording technique.

[...]

On this note I particularly admire ‘Magna est enim velut mare contritio tua’ (For your downfall is as great at the sea) from the Lamentations for Good Friday, where the sea almost literally sweeps in for this verse. But perhaps the most arresting and unexpected touch is the eight-voice setting of ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem’ at the end of Lectio III for Holy Saturday, where three extra tenor parts fill out the texture and create a magical ending. Throughout this album Cinquecento offer a performance which is truly reflective and tender.


To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Dec 2019)

6 Nov 2019

Josquin des Prés: Missa mater Patris

Josquin des Prés: Missa mater Patris & Noel Bauldeweyn: Missa Da pacem
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
CDGIM052


As one of the most important accounts of Josquin’s Masses in recent decades, Peter Phillips’s albums with The Tallis Scholars continue to sparkle and inform. Already in these pages I have admired the clarity of vision and consistency of sound that this ensemble bring to his works; but with this new album there is a particular sheen to the performance that places it among their recent best.

Phillips recently wrote how he feels each of Josquin’s Masses has its own ‘sound world’ (The Musical Times, autumn 2018). As we approach the end of his recording project, this comment comes into sharper focus, and particularly so in the case of Missa Mater Patris. One can argue that this is a late work on the grounds it is potentially a lament for Brumel, who died around 1512 and whose motet provides the model. But also, as Phillips suggests, this ‘forthright’ and ‘bracingly simple’ style could be the refinement of a lifetime’s work. One could say that of this performance as well: it is scored for low voices and these singers find a warmth in the homophonic writing that blooms into an unhurried grandeur. Compared with Chanticleer (7/94) this is a much tighter ensemble in both tone and phrasing, and there are several outstandingly well-controlled spans of two-voice polyphony. Listen especially for the way these singers glide through the exotic chord-chains in the Sanctus: I can’t help but be reminded of the confident sweep of the Andrews Sisters. This is glorious stuff indeed.

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To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Nov 2019)

5 Nov 2019

Air Music: Tales of Flying Creatures and Heavenly Breezes

Air Music
Capella de la Torre
Katharina Bäuml
Deutsche HM


This third instalment in Capella de la Torre’s series of the four elements is every bit as fresh and thoughtful as one would expect from one of Europe’s leading early wind ensembles. The programme consists largely of Renaissance and early Baroque music and opens with an instrumental performance of Thomas Ravenscroft’s canon The wind blows out of the west introduced by wind machine and accompanied by gentle percussion. The sprightly opening and chirrupy fanfare calls are exactly the sort of perky texture that these musicians serve best. Continuing with Westron Wynde in a section of the programme called ‘Gone with the Wind’, John Sheppard’s Gloria from his Mass ‘The Western Wynde’ is performed by soprano and instrumental ensemble. This is an extraordinary work, so different here with the warm reeds and occasional embellishments from the classic vocal recording by The Tallis Scholars (Gimell, 9/93). Instead of high, soaring phrases we have something contained and brisk. It’s not unattractive, but at some of the more complex passages such as ‘Suscipe deprecationem nostram’ and the change to triple time for ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’, metrical accuracy takes precedence over musical flow.


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This enjoyable album has a stylish snap, especially in the dance music that Capella de la Torre perform so well. And, as ever with this superb ensemble, the percussion subtly steals the show at every opportunity. I defy anyone to sit still through Praetorius’s Ballet de bouteile.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Nov 2019)

4 Nov 2019

Peñalosa - Lamentationes

Peñalosa - Lamentationes
New York Polyphony
BIS2407


It’s wonderful to hear more music from Francisco de Peñalosa (1470-1528), and particularly pleasing that it comes on this stylish release from New York Polyphony complete with superb booklet notes by Ivan Moody. Peñalosa’s life coincided with the beginning of the Spanish ‘Golden Age’ and he was a key figure in the generation before Cristóbal de Morales (1500 53). A useful elevator pitch would be ‘Flemish polyphony with a twist’.

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Two standout pieces are the Stabat mater by Pedro de Escobar (fl1507 14), a short but arresting setting of the first two verses. Rich and vibrant in texture, it again draws on this ensemble’s deep palette of vocal colours. The second is the Credo from Missa L’homme armé, which sits like a declamatory jewel in the middle of this disc. Previously known only by The Orlando Consort’s brighter, sparkling performance (Harmonia Mundi), it is here taken slightly slower and with more gravitas. However, with only six surviving cyclic Masses by Peñalosa, not all of which are yet represented on disc, my gripe is that this Missa L’homme armé is incomplete, lacking its five-voice Kyrie and the Sanctus/Benedictus. While not musically problematic, it is something of a shame not to have the opportunity to hear the whole thing, especially considering the quality and beauty of performance in the other movements.


To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Nov 2019)