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)

28 Apr 2018

Byrd Motets

Byrd Motets
The Choir of King’s College Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury



Throughout this disc, Cleobury opts for an up-front expressivity quite at odds with that classic, old King’s sound, leading to some very exciting moments. Occasionally the trebles lack the finesse and steely control to pull off the sort of performance heard from New College Oxford on their famous William Byrd Cantiones Sacrae 1589 (1983 CRD3420). [...]

Yet elsewhere the sound of the choral scholars—fuller, richer and bolder than ever before—pays many dividends. The Lenten motets Ne irascaris, Domine and Civitas sancti tui are superb, if not slightly too brisk for my task. More tenderness could be found in Byrd’s shapely setting of the word ‘Jerusalem’ but this is a small point compared to the rich vocal tone. By far the best track on this disc though is Alleluia. Ascendit Deus. Dominus in Sina. Here, in a higher tessitura, the trebles find more focus and the phrasing flows joyfully.

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

24 Feb 2018

Icons: Cathy Berberian

‘It has been a great pleasure to revisit Cathy Berberian’s recordings,’ says EDWARD BREEN, author of this issue’s Icons feature dedicated to the mezzo and composer. ‘She was an incredible communicator in music from Monteverdi to Berio. I can almost taste the words that she sings.’


Cathy Berberian As far as is possible within the confines of these pages, Edward Breen explores the vocalist’s fascinating career – defined by eclecticism, experimentation, unorthodoxy and sheer chutzpah

To explore the work of Cathy Berberian (1925-83) is to gaze in wonderment at the versatility and creativity of the human voice. In the 1950s and ’60s she was in the thick of the musical avant-garde, fusing gestural utterances with traditional modes of singing to widen the aesthetic parameters of composition for solo voice. Her dazzling performances (which became known as New Vocality) inspired many composers, but she didn’t limit herself to Darmstadt circles; as Philip Clark wrote in this very magazine more than a decade ago, her career ‘relentlessly posed the question, “which avant-garde?”’ (3/06).


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

23 Feb 2018

Missa Videte miraculum & Ave Maria, ancilla Trinitatis

Missa Videte miraculum & Ave Maria, ancilla Trinitatis
Nicholas Ludford (c1490-1557)
Westminster Abbey Choir, James O'Donnell (conductor)
Hyperion CDA68192

The modern reputation of Nicholas Ludford (c1490-1557) was really sealed by the first recordings of The Cardinall’s Musick in the early1990s (ASV Gaudeamus CDGAU131, 132, 133, 140). These pioneering discs transformed Ludford from being considered a bridge—linking Robert Fayrfax with John Taverner—to one of the most prolific composers of masses in Tudor England and a great pre-reformation musician. [...]

O’Donnell treads a conservative path through the richly textured Missa Videte miraculum. In the Gloria the Lay Vicars create a luscious, serene opening which the treble voices later expand into a full six-part texture. 


The finest singing on this disc however, is undoubtedly Ave Maria, ancilla Trinitas: an exceptional work and a superb performance. The choir are heard at their finest in the more impassioned moments, of which this votive antiphon offers many.

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