10 Jan 2021

Machaut: The lion of nobility

Machaut The Lion of Nobility
The Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68318

The Orlando Consort’s latest album in their Machaut/Hyperion project features works from his ‘Prologue’, a fictional autobiography beginning his complete works manuscript. The selection features several famous works well-known from previous recordings, and illustrates—in the words of editors Anne Stone and Jacques Boogaart—‘the whole spectrum of Machaut’s poetic and musical art’[…]. As ever, the performing editions used here are from the forthcoming Complete Works of Guillaume de Machaut and just this Autumn The American Musicological Society awarded their prestigious Noah Greenberg Award to this Machaut project.

[...] Also of note is the solo voiced ballade Dame, se vous m’estes lonteinne (Lady, if you are distant from me) with its familiar theme of unobtainable longing which offers a moving moment of repose, beautifully sung by Matthew Venner whose mellow countertenor tone infuses this album with warmth. Another wonderful and fascinating instalment in this impressive series.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Jan 2021)

1 Jan 2021

Vocal Traditions in Conflict

Richard Bethell, Vocal Traditions in Conflict:
Descent From Sweet, Clear, Pure and Affecting Italian Singing to Grand Uproar
reviewed by Edward Breen
Early Music Performer, Issue 46, Spring 2020

‘Whatever we know or don’t know about 13th century singing and, God knows, there’s very little we can say for certain about it, we may be certain that it didn’t sound like 20th century singing.’ The words of Michael Morrow, director of Musica Reservata, one of the first early-music ensembles to experiment with vocal sound and style. He worked with many musicians who would go on to define early-music performance in the last quarter of the twentieth century: Andrew Parrott, Anthony Rooley, Christopher Page, and the sounds that he asked of singer Jantina Noorman would go on to influence many later performers such as Dominique Visse. 

The author of this new volume about vocal traditions, and vocal vibrato – Richard Bethell – is another Musica Reservata alumnus who, alongside a business career, has remained a recognisable figure within British early-music circles as Secretary of the National Early Music Association (NEMA). In 2009 he helped organise a conference at York University on ‘Singing music from 1500 to 1900’ at which he presented on vocal vibrato. In many ways this book is rooted in Morrow’s ideas: it seeks to look beyond modern performance norms.


2 Dec 2020

Cambridge Introductions to Music: Renaissance Polyphony

Cambridge Introductions to Music: Renaissance Polyphony
Fabrice Fitch

The Cambridge Introductions to Music have quickly established themselves as a bridge for undergraduates seeking a deeper dive into essential topics. This is the eighth of nine titles on their website, and of the three I have read (the others being Gregorian Chant by David Hiley and The Sonata by Thomas Thomas Schmidt-Beste) I find the format superb: well targeted, generously detailed and unapologetically demanding. As the collection grows, I hope it will also carve out a niche with music-literate audiences. In this latest addition, Renaissance Polyphony, Fabrice Fitch offers a tightly focused overview with only occasional diversions into other forms of Renaissance music and ‘new cultural history.’ [...] The result is the sort of book we all really needed when we were undergraduates, a genuinely interesting but calm ordering of essential topics that will spark interest in Renaissance Polyphony at each turn. In fact, Renaissance music studies is now a richly represented field and Fitch’s powerful short volume will offer something unique alongside the Cambridge histories of fifteenth and sixteenth century music as well as Richard Freedman’s Music in the Renaissance (Norton’s Western Music in Context series) to name a few.


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

1 Dec 2020

Sheppard: Media vita

Sheppard: Media vita
Choir of New College Oxford, Robert Quinney

There are many reasons why this this new release from the Choir of New College Oxford directed by Robert Quinney will not disappoint, and chief among them are four premiere recordings and a consistently radiant sound with confident, purposeful phrasing. [...]

Lastly, it is pleasing to hear John Sheppard’s monumental Media Vita sounding so rich and full with a memorable countertenor sound. Sad, perhaps, that in our current pandemic the text ‘in the midst of life we are in death’ should strike us so poignantly but thrilling to hear such young voices do justice to one of Sheppard’s finest works.

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

8 Nov 2020

Josquin: Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie - Missa D'ung aultre amer - Missa Faysant regretz

Josquin Masses: Hercules Dux Ferrarie, D’ung aultre amer, Faysant regretz
The Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
Gimell CDGIM 051

This ends a hugely enjoyable project begun in 1986, not originally envisaged as a complete cycle of Josquin’s masses but which spawned consistently superb releases until completion became inevitable. This final disc is described by Philips as a ‘showcase for [Josquin’s] genius’ and presents a trio of early-middle works offering some exquisite textures. Who better to navigate such extraordinary music than the masters of tranquillity and clarity themselves, The Tallis Scholars, their exacting style delineates the distinctive sound-world of each mass whilst maintaining a consistent sonic beauty.

Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie is based on eight notes derived from the vowels of the Duke’s name; as Phillips explains ‘Ercole I d’este of Ferrara, liked to hear his name often, loud and clear.’ The tenors shimmer brightly on this repeated tune whilst the superius (uppermost) line is gentle and understated. An enjoyable comparison can be made with The Hilliard Ensemble (EMI Reflexe 49960) whose strong countertenors draw more focus to the top of the texture. As ever, one greedily awaits the canonic passages in The Tallis Scholars’ performance since their glassy serenity lends itself to such textures. The six-voiced Agnus Dei is sublime.


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

1 Oct 2020

John Sheppard: Media Vita in Morte Sumus

John Sheppard: Media Vita in Morte Sumus
Alamire, David Skinner
Inventa Records INV1003

John Sheppard’s (c.1515-1558) monumental antiphon Media Vita in Morte Sumus (in the midst of life we are in death) is one of the most arresting works of Tudor England. This sixteen-minute EP (recorded 2012) is freshly released and newly edited to reflect the likely liturgical practice of Sheppard’s day following research by Professor John Harper and Jason Smart. In brief, the canticle Nunc Dimitis appears immediately after the initial plainsong incipit Media Vita, following which the whole of the Media Vita antiphon is sung followed by the usual verses and short invocations without the repeats heard on older releases. The result is a distilled, striking work accompanied by a thoughtful programme note reminding us that the composer lost his life in London’s 1550s influenza epidemic.

Alamire perform Media Vita at a pitch where their tenors shine particularly brightly. In their hands this polyphony has a lower centre of gravity than the initial famous recording by The Tallis Scholars (CDGIM016) yet it retains a similar sheen. I particularly admire the pace of the opening which finds an atmosphere of wonder as the enormity of Shepherd’s polyphony is unveiled. Although I retain a fondness for the high-pitched performances of English Tudor music pioneered by David Wulstan / Clerkes of Oxenford, this new release from Alamire is magnificent and unmissably poignant in these times of pandemic.

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

25 Aug 2020

Cupertinos: a passion for Portuguese polyphony

‘It was a great pleasure to meet Luís Toscano and to hear the Cupertinos live at Cadogan Hall last February,’ says Edward Breen, author of this month’s feature on the vocal ensemble. ‘Their charismatic performances inspired me to embark on a lockdown listening odyssey of Portuguese polyphony.’

It’s not called a golden age for nothing: the polyphony of renaissance Portugal is deeply expressive and shares a richly extended post-Palestrina lexicon with its Spanish counterparts. On occasion it also features well controlled wafts of chromaticism echoing Gesualdo and his kind. So, if you are new to this music don’t let anyone sell you a story of minor masters, Portugal has serious talent. Furthermore, due to a sixty-year Spanish rule (1580–1640) Portugal’s golden age often described as pan-Iberian at least until the restoration of their monarchy with King John IV, João o Restaurador. To be sure King Philip of Spain had supported the Portuguese musicians during his rule, but it is through a Byrd-esque concentration on texts describing the destruction of Jerusalem and captivity under foreign rule that we detect a yearning for independence being communicated by these artists, so the history of the music is also fascinating.


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