17 Jul 2016

Gramophone Collector

Wanderlust and exile
Edward Breen listens to a collection of discs exploring the boundary between East and West

Early musicians look east not because they find it quaintly exotic, nor because they learned from Disraeli that is a career. They look, and have always looked, because they realise the roots of the ‘Western’ story are as inextricably intertwined with The East as is its present.

The modern early musician (if you forgive the oxymoron) is heir to an important lineage of musical thought, one that has fundamentally shaken the broader frame of classical music in which it perches. Whereas early twentieth century performances tended to come straight-from-the-page in the prevailing chamber music style, things changed in the 60s when, for instance, performers like Thomas Binkley looked to Andalucían improvisatory practices to inform the performance of medieval dance, he and others began to view monody as a starting point rather than an absolute. By the 1980s Christopher Page moved away from what he once described as the ‘medieval-banquet, rosy-cheeked-wench, sucking-pig view of the medieval past’ towards a more ‘cathedralish’ middle ages and perhaps it was no coincidence that around this time Peter Phillips also discovered an urtext renaissance suited the clean digital sound of CD.

Having now established a canon of early music, the movement is restless again and seems to be revisiting its 1960s roots. I for one detect wanderlust.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (August 2016)

16 Jul 2016

Chorus vel Organa

Chorus vel Organa
Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge 

Geoffrey Webber director, Magnus Williamson organ.
Delphian DCD34158

There is much to be celebrated here as early music scholarship inspires joyful performances from the Choir of Gonville & Caius College. The album presents pre-Reformation liturgical music for the Feast of St Stephen (26th December) alongside plainsong and its alternatives; chanting in chords, faburden and organ improvisations. Consequently, the jewel in this particular crown is the St Teilo organ, a reconstruction in the early English 16th-century style following research from John Harper at Bangor University’s “The Experience of Worship” project. Organist, Magnus Williamson, revives improvisatory techniques appropriate for both plainsong and polyphony leading to an album whose polyphonic delights are embedded in a liturgical soundscape likely to reflect practice in the chapel of St Stephen during Henry VIII’s reign.

To read the full text of this review please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (August 2016)

4 Jul 2016

Firminus Caron: Twilight of the Middle Ages

Firminus Caron: Twilight of the Middle Ages Huelgas Ensemble / Paul van Nevel
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88875143472

[...] The sublime and despairing rondeau, Le despourveu infortune, one of the most popular in the second half of the fifteenth century, here showcases this ensemble at their best, mourning and yearning with wonderfully judged delicate vocal lines cascading like gentle tears. The contrast could not be greater with their grittier, wittier tone in the delightfully smutty Corps contre corps where sequential vocal entries reveal a mischievous plan: no-holes-barred [sic] lusty singing from the lower voices and a smooth upper line which makes sense only when you read the text closely…

To read the full text of this review please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (July 2016)

3 Jul 2016

Alonso Lobo: Lamentations

Alonso Lobo: Lamentations
Westminster Cathedral Choir / Martin Baker

[...] Nothing, however, will prepare listeners for the beauty of Lobo’s lamentations. Those who know them from Bruno Turner’s 2002 recording with Musica Reservata de Barcelona will find this performance statelier. This is a good thing: as the cycle unfolds it becomes apparent that Lobo uses the Hebrew letters as elaborate weeping gestures, a point made by Bruno Turner in his sleeve notes. Listen especially to the first setting of Iod (track fourteen) as a heart-stopping example of the famous Westminster Cathedral treble sound. This, for me, is as good as it gets both in terms of performance and also in terms of a school of polyphony beyond the works of Victoria. [...]

To read the full text of this review please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (July 2016)