11 Dec 2018

Missa Ave Maria & Missa Salve sancta parens

Missa Ave Maria & Missa Salve sancta parens
Antoine de Févin (c1470-1511/12)

The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice (conductor)
Hyperion CDA68265

Antoine de Févin is not currently well known despite his works having traveled widely in his own day and now being preserved for us in several important sources alongside the work of more famous contemporaries.


The real jewel on this disc is the motet Ascedens Christus in altum. Fuller and richer than one might expect from Févin, a recent discovery has firmed up his attribution. This motet in particular suits The Brabant Ensemble extremely well showcasing their wonderfully bright sopranos in a ravishing trio Elevatis manibus ferebatur in caelum (Lifting his hands he was carried up to heaven). These larger motets with cascading upper voices are what this ensemble does best, and this particular one is especially gorgeous.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Dec 2018)

10 Dec 2018

Pater Peccavi

PATER PECCAVI,  Music of Lamentation from Renaissance Portugal
Works by Manuel Cardoso, Estevao Lopes Morago etc.
The Marian Consort / Rory McCleery.
Delphian DCD 34205

This exquisite late renaissance Portuguese polyphonic repertoire is as richly expressive as it is politically poised. Written under the rule of the Spanish Habsburgs from 1580-1640 works by Duarte Lobo (ca.1565-1646) & Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650) are frequently drawn towards texts of mourning and lamentation as they long for an end to foreign rule and yearn for the restoration of a Portuguese monarchy. All this becomes more stylistically vivid when we note both composers outlived Monteverdi, albeit only slightly.


The premiere recording of Lobo’s Missa Veni Domine forms the backbone to the programme. A parody/imitation work drawing on a motet by Palestrina, Rory McCleery explains potential Sebastianist connections with this text in his sleeve notes (the hoped for return of King Sebastian lost in a military campaign of 1578). I love this performance, full of energy and highly responsive to the text. The Sanctus and Benedictus in particular shows the flexibility of this ensemble in responding to different textures. The album highlight for me, however, is Circumdederunt me, a setting of a funeral text by Aires Fernandez. Here the phrases reach upwards and overlap in great arches which the singers perform with a yearning intensity which is just exquisite.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Dec 2018)

25 Nov 2018

Josquin - Missa Gaudeamus and Missa L'ami Baudichon

Josquin Missa Gaudeamus. Missa L’ami Baudichon
The Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips Gimell F CDGIM050

[...] As ever with The Tallis Scholars, interpretative gestures are subtle but flowing: listen for the deliciously well-controlled gush of excitement, a brass band climax in miniature, at Josquin’s triumphal Credo ending, ‘et vitam venture saeculi, Amen’. They find a wonderful sway in the garlands of polyphony and a sense of expectance in the tenors’ long final note.

Conversely, Missa Gaudeamus is almost certainly a middle-period work, and I am charmed by how the opening of the plainchant model presents a joyfully wide rising interval which permeates the polyphonic texture. The Tallis Scholars allow much light to filter through Josquin’s complex textures and they clearly delight in his beautifully spacious three-part setting of ‘Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua’. Their sound may have softened slightly with a new generation of singers but it suits Missa Gaudeamus particularly well. This disc is surely one of their best recent releases.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Nov 2018)

13 Oct 2018


Les Cris de Paris, Geoffroy Jourdain
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902298

For this programme, Melancholia, they delve into an adventurous and sumptuous moment of musical history: the sixteenth century’s own fin de siècle which Jourdain dubs a musical avant-garde.


Perhaps the most impressive tracks are the recurring instrumental performances of Byrd’s Lullaby, my sweet little baby ‘imbued with sad premonition’ and his Elegy on the Death of Philip Sydney (Come to me grief forever). The juxtaposition of forward-looking and retrospective portraits of melancholia are touchingly referenced in the programme notes and in both pieces I have been long preoccupied with the superb performances by Fretwork / Michael Chance (1990, VC 7 59586 2; 1987, VC 7 90722-2), I never thought their intimate, sinewy sound could be matched – but here Jourdain’s pairing of serpent, cornet and viols brings a gloriously rich hue to Byrd’s music. To bastardize Victor Hugo, never was there such pleasure in being sad.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (Oct 2018)

25 Sep 2018

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Historical Performance in Music

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Historical Performance in Music
Edited by Colin Lawson, Royal College of Music, London , Robin Stowell, Cardiff University

My entries include: Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, David Munrow, Thurston Dart, Andrew Parrott and Sir Anthony Lewis.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Online publication date: August 2018
Print publication year: 2018
Online ISBN: 9781316257678

15 Jun 2018

The King's Singers

The King’s Singers:
Madrigals & Songs from the Renaissance Warner Classics S h 9029 57028-2 
The Complete RCA Recordings RCA Red Seal S k 8898 547018-2

Edward Breen listens to two complementary collections from the UK’s favourite a cappella group

When two choral scholars from the famous choir of King’s College, Cambridge formed an ensemble to perform secular music they could hardly have foreseen a half-century of world-class music-making. From the very start this ensemble consisted of two countertenors, one tenor, two baritones and a bass: a cluster of lower sonorities characterising a smooth, rich sound and underpinning their skillful falsettists. The King’s Singers, as they became in 1968, were among the early music vanguard, that critical mass of ensembles who convinced us of alternatives to the prevailing styles. Certainly The King’s Singers began to reimagine an early music sound from the earliest disc in this Warner Classics collection, their 1974 album ‘English and Italian Madrigals’.


The album I consider to be the absolute essential King’s Singers disc opens this collection: ‘Good Vibrations’ (1992). If you first listened to the madrigals and marvelled at their delicacy, nothing you will find will prepare you for the astonishing difference in this tribute to favourite pop songs. The sound is undeniably the same, as is the cheeky enjoyment of music-making and communication, but a spotlight has moved towards harmony and style. ‘Good Vibrations’ was the album of a lifetime, an outstanding achievement resting not only on the performances but also the arrangements: reharmonisation offering new contexts and complexities to familiar songs.


To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (June 2018)

29 Apr 2018

Tomás Luis de Victoria: Tenebrae Responsories
Stile Antico

Harmonia Mundi: HMM 902272

The works on this disc are taken from Victoria’s Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae (published Rome, 1585), a vast offering of polyphonic music spanning Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday. What are presented here are the Responsories for ‘Tenebrae’ services, once celebrated in the fading daylight as part of a liturgy requiring candles to be sequentially extinguished. It has become customary in modern times to record the Second and Third Nocturns from Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday in sequence. Divorced from their original context they form an impressively impassioned collection.

This has to be Stile Antico’s best album to date, it’s certainly their most gripping and, as ever with this ensemble, the vocal sound is sumptuous throughout. That they are so engaging in Victoria’s music can be no mere accident: these pieces have a bold recorded history beginning with George Malcolm’s feisty madrigalian interpretation (Westminster Cathedral Choir 1959: Decca 425078) and retaining an imprint of that extrovert approach ever since. [...]

In this recording I particularly admire how the singers find a splendid balance between their rich, blended sound and the need for individual vocal grains to emerge at imploring or declamatory moments. Take, for instance ‘tenebrae factae sunt’ in the Good Friday Responsories: here sung by low-voices: they delineate the darkness of the crucifixion from the crying out of Jesus in what must be one of the most intimate performances on record.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (May 2018)