4 Dec 2017

In Dulci Jubilo: Music for the Christmas Season by Buxtehude and friends
Theatre of Voices / Paul Hillier

DACAPO 6.220661

This latest exploration of Buxtehude and his circle from Paul Hillier and the Theatre of Voices is a joyful, festive programme divided into four sections, The Annunciation & Advent, The Shepherds, the Nativity and New Year, Epiphany & Annunciation; each one containing a work by Buxtehude, at least one substantial motet by a related composer and an organ solo. It is recorded in the warm acoustic of Garnisonskirken, Copenhagen.

[...]  Lastly, a small masterpiece by Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703), Merk auf, mein Herz for double choir. Listeners will know this from an intimate, meditative performance by Vox Lumis /Lionel Meunier (Ricercar – RIC 347). Here, however, Hillier offers a faster, more demonstrative and quick-witted reading. Listen out for the ox and ass, and the stunning setting of ‘zu ruhn in meines Herzens Schrein, daß nimmer ich vergesse dein.’ The execution of that last line (that I may never forget you) shows Hillier’s Midas touch.


To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (December 2017)

3 Dec 2017

Parle Qui Veut: Moralizing Songs of the Middle Ages

Parle Qui Veut: Moralizing Songs of the Middle Ages
Sollazzo Ensemble / dir. Anna Danilevskaia


This has to be one of the most exciting and engaging releases of medieval song in recent years. The Sollazzo Ensemble offer a programme of French and Italian works drawing chiefly on Trecento composers from around Florence and their French counterparts. The moralizing theme allows for a great deal of variety from both known and anonymous composers to form a coherent and varied programme. This album forms part of the ensemble’s prize as winners of the 2015 York Early Music Artists Competition and is recorded with a warm clarity by LINN records in the National Centre for Early Music. 

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (December 2017)

2 Dec 2017

Nicholas Ludford: Missa Dominica

Nicholas Ludford: Missa Dominica
Trinity Boys Choir / Handbell Choir Gotha / Lewis Brito-Babapulle, Organ / David Swinson

Rondeau – ROP8001

Ludford’s Lady Masses stand apart from his more widely recorded Festal masses for their alternatim settings and unusual 3-part scoring. For this recording, composer and musicologist Graham Lack has realised an organ part through faburden and extempore accompaniment techniques that allows Missa Dominica to be sung by boys and tenors. Alternate verses are sung to Sarum chant.

Trinity Boys Choir have an incredibly warm sound, and one is charmed by the beauty of their collective tone [...]

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (December 2017) 

1 Dec 2017

Edward Breen: Critic’s Choice 2017

Lucrezia Borgia's Daughter
Princess, Nun and Musician: Motets from a 16th century convent

Musica Secreta & Celestial Sirens 

Obsidian Records CD717


This album represents all that is trailblazing about early music: creative research and thrilling performances uniting sopranos and altos from different generations of leading British vocal ensembles. This passionate and, frankly, sensual vocal polyphony from the convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara, home of Lucrezia Borgia’s daughter (1515–1575) is a revelation.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (December 2017)

11 Aug 2017

Occhi Turchini: Songs from Calabria

Occhi Turchini: Songs from Calabria
Pino de Vittorio & Laboratorio 600/ Franco Pavan
Glossa – GCDp33002

Franco Pavan’s recent forays into the exciting world of folk / early-music with Laboratorio ‘600 are stylish and exciting. His combination of poignant programming with crisp, exacting performances show he has a finger right on the pulse of current trends in musicology. This latest album, Occhi Turchini, brings the ultra-expressive and colourful voice of Pino de Vittorio together with some fascinating research into various cultural influences on Southern Italian music; the result is a selection of traditional Calabrian songs and instrumental works full of surprises.

[...] Throughout this album I am reminded that when Alan Lomax embarked on his Italian recording project for Columbia Records he promised the broadcaster RAI that his work would inspire a folksong revival. It is heartening, therefore, to see Lomax’s recording of Veni sonne de la muntagnella cited as the source for Pino de Vittorio’s haunting performance of the same song. Yet this disc is so much more than a revival, it is a celebration of Calabrian diversity and history.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (September 2017)

5 Jul 2017

Pange Lingua: Music for Corpus Christi

Pange Lingua: Music for Corpus Christi
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge
Graham Ross, director. Michael Papadopoulos, organ 

The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, directed by Graham Ross explore music for Corpus Christi through the hymns of Saint Thomas Aquinas. The programme forms part of their series of music for the liturgical year and traces a long arc from Josquin to the present including works by Victoria, Bairstow and Messiaen. 

[...] Although I prefer fewer voices in Josquin’s polyphony, this is one of the best choral performances of this mass on record.

[...] Francis Grier’s atmospheric setting of Panis Angelicus in memory of musicologist and conductor, David Trendell, is something of a showstopper. Lower voices form a rich, sonorous drone chord, from which the tentrils of solo soprano and tenor lines rise in a manner redolent of incense. In particular, the light, buoyant bloom of Alice Halstead’s soprano is spellbinding and I would suggest that she is a voice to listen out for. [...]

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (July 2017) 

14 Jun 2017

The history of medieval English music on record

The history of medieval English music on record
Edward Breen

Now that we have simple access to vast quantities of recorded music it is all too easy not to notice that many great albums have still to be invited to this digital party. Great swathes of our recorded history, which Tom Moore neatly described a few years ago in Early Music America as ‘Our disappearing LP legacy’, are waiting to be rediscovered and time is running out as many libraries find they just do not justify the shelf space. Such challenges make historical record collecting rather adventurous; it takes intrepid listeners on voyages through sound archives (physical and online), record shops and digital download sites. It follows therefore that we must ask ourselves why preserving old recordings is important. Are we merely attempting to ensure a future for our nostalgia? The answer, as I hope to demonstrate, [...]

For the full text of this article please refer to Early Music (Oxford University Press: Jun 2017).
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/em/cax027

12 Jun 2017

Research portal: King's College London

My PhD thesis is now available to download from the King's College London research portal and I am delighted to note that so many people are interested to read more about the work of David Munrow.

The Performance Practice of David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London : Medieval Music in the 1960s and 1970s

This thesis focuses on the musical contribution of David Munrow and his Early Music Consort of London (EMC) to the so-called early music revival of the 1960s and 1970s. By exploring the notion of shared cultural space in performances of medieval music by leading ensembles of the time, this thesis seeks to isolate aspects of performance practice unique to the EMC.

An assessment of literary sources documenting the early music revival reveals clear nodes of discussion around Munrow’s methods of presenting early music in concert performance which are frequently classified as ‘showmanship’ with a focus on more scholarly performance practice decisions only evident in the post-Munrow period.

Close readings of these sources are undertaken which are, in turn, weighed against Munrow’s early biography to map out the web of influences contributing to his musical life. Having established David Munrow’s intentions in performance, this thesis uses techniques of performance analysis to question whether he and the EMC achieved such stated aims in performance, and identifies how different approaches are made manifest in recordings by other ensembles.

The findings, which seek to marry sonic analysis with reception history, are interpreted in the light of the New Cultural History of Music and reposition David Munrow, often seen as a showman who evangelized early music, as a musician who profoundly influenced the modern aesthetics and surface details of performance for subsequent generations of early musicians.

Original language: English
Awarding Institution: King's College London
Dillon, Emma, Supervisor
Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel, Supervisor
Award date: 2015

Documents: 2015_Breen_Edward_95025532_ethesis
51 MB, PDF-document

3 Jun 2017

Sacred Treasures of England

Sacred Treasures of England The London Oratory Schola Cantorum Boys Choir
Sony Classical 88985416362

The London Oratory Schola Cantorum Boys Choir sing weekly in the generous acoustic of the Brompton Oratory and the music on this disc reflects their dedication to Tudor repertoire. The top line largely dictates their overall sound and in Missa Euge Bone by Tye (c.1500-1573) the trebles exhibit a bright, joyful grain with a slight tendency to sharpness that portrays lofty phrases as immediate and readily communicative. Coupled with the men’s rich voices, they find great interest in the alternating upper- and lower-voiced textures that this mass favours. In the Gloria there is a fabulous transition from calm, homophonic texture in Jesu Christe to effusive, puppyish joy in Cum Sancto Spiritu…Amen. [...]

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (June 2007)

21 Apr 2017

Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter

Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter’ 
Princess, Nun and Musician: Motets from a 16th Century Convent’ 
attrib d’Este Musica quinque vocum motteta materna lingua vocata Musica Secreta; 
Celestial Sirens / Laurie Stras, Deborah Roberts Obsidian F CD717 (72’ • DDD • T/t)


The progressive nature of these motets will surprise and delight lovers of 16th-century music. Written for equal voices, they are contained within a twooctave compass promoting a rich, sonorous texture. Such textures are beautiful and supple in the hands of Musica Secreta, whose singers include leading voices of Renaissance music: Deborah Roberts, Sally Dunkley and Caroline Trevor. They are cushioned by the warm embrace of an organ and underpinned with a sinewy viol to provide a firm polyphonic meld. 

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (May 2007)

20 Apr 2017

MUSICAL CONNECTIONS: Ten early madrigals

Ten early madrigals

Madrigals ancient and modern launch a pair of parallel century-hopping musical journeys.

Les Arts Florissants' 2016 Gramophone award-winning Monteverdi album inspired our two journeys.

A journey through Italian madrigals reveals a slow transformation from introverted, reflective styles to declamatory, quasi-operatic scenes. The intimate ‘barbershop’ sound of The King’s Singers suits early works particularly well, especially Arcadelt’s subtly erotic setting of a swan song. This sense of intimacy is transformed by the young Monteverdi’s almost claustrophobic Baci soave, e cari in which Les Arts Florissants bristle with energy responding to the delicate combination of text and dissonance. [...]

  • Arcadelt Il bianco e dolce cigno King’s Singers Warner 
  • Monteverdi Baci soave, e cari Les Arts Florissants LAF 
  • Marenzio Solo e pensoso Huelgas Ens Sony Classical 
  • Gesualdo Io parto… Compagnie del Madrigale Glossa 
  • Monteverdi Sfogava co… Voces Suaves Ambronay 
  • Monteverdi Cruda Amarilli Concerto Italiano Naïve 
  • Monteverdi Lamento d’Arianna Consort of Musicke Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 
  • Monteverdi Lettera amorosa Figueras Alia Vox 
  • Monteverdi Lettera amorosa Berberian Wergo 
  • Monteverdi Il combattimento Villazón Erato
To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (May 2007)

12 Apr 2017

Book review: Well-tempered woodwinds

Well-tempered woodwinds: Friedrich von Huene and the making of early music in a new world Geoffrey Burgess
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015), $45
Reviewed by Edward Breen in Early Music (2016) 44 (4): 647-649.
Published:10 February 2017

For the early music movement this is a decade infused with self-reflection. It is over 40 years since the boom of the early 1970s, and many pioneering performers are celebrating long careers that started in small counter-cultural settings and have led to mainstream concert success and global record sales. So it is only natural that we might be interested in how we got where we are, as well as asking where we are going next.

As a contribution to early music nostalgia, this book is much more than a simple biography of Friedrich von Huene, one of the world’s leading historical woodwind-makers; it also investigates his research and influence upon performance. Through this prism it offers both a cultural history of the early music movement in America and its connections to European practice, and a history of modern...

To read the full text of this review, please visit Early Music. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/em/caw101

31 Mar 2017

Divine Theatre

Divine Theatre: Motets by Giaches de Wert
Stile Antico
Harmonia Mundi HMM807620

[...] The astonishingly vivid Ascendente Jesu in naviculam, which tells of Jesus and his disciples at sea in a storm, probably best showcases Stile Antico’s extrovert potential. Alongside this, a magnificent, if rather statuesque performance of Vox in Rama offers a refined and sonorous approach characterised by the slow, soporific atmospheres that Stile Antico often favour in continental polyphony. It is testament to Wert’s emotional immediacy that this album is one of their most engaging recordings: polyphony to grab one’s attention rather than to carpet a devotional daydream.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (April 2007)

30 Mar 2017

Monteverdi Madrigali Volume 3: Venezia

Monteverdi Madrigali Volume 3: Venezia
Les Arts Florissants / Paul Agnew Harmonia Mundi F HAF890 5 278

[...] Take, for instance, the little-recorded Al lume de le stelle where rising vocal phrases unfurl and look towards the stars as Tirsi is reminded of the glint in his lover’s eyes. The phrasing is incredibly spacious and even at its slowest, text is always the driving force to the extent that one can almost taste it. In the solo madrigals, Miriam Allan’s sublime singing in Con che soavità is delicately imbued with a knowing glint.  [...]

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (April 2007)

24 Feb 2017

Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz

‘Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz’ 
‘Fifteenth-Century Music from Central Europe’ 

La Morra / Corina Marti, Michał Gondko 
Glossa F GCD922515

[...] Fittingly, one of the finest performances on this disc is of the motet that first yielded Petrus Wilhelmi’s name. In an all-vocal performance, Petrus’s textures are rich, sonorous and rather old-fashioned for their time. Kyrie: Fons bonitatis shows Petrus in a more ‘modern’ guise and the singers at their most sumptuous.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (March2017)

28 Jan 2017

Madrigali Diminuiti

Verdelot / Ganassi - Madrigali Diminuiti
Doulce Mémoire
Clara Coutouly, soprano
Pascale Boquet, lute
Bérengère Sardin, harp
Sébastien Wonner, spinet, clavicytherium
Denis Raisin Dadre, recorders and direction

Having established the superiority of the voice it is fitting that soprano Clara Coutouly sings so engagingly throughout this programme. Her warm tone has a beauty and bloom that infuses even the most mournful of texts with a plethora of subtle hues. In Verdelot’s Ardenti miei sospiri for example, she leans into those soft onomatopoeic sighs with heart-rending subtly.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (February 2017)

22 Jan 2017

30-Second Classical Music

30-Second Classical Music: The 50 most significant genres, composers and innovations, each explained in half a minute
Ivy Press ISBN-10: 1782404252

Editor: Joanne Cormac
Foreword: David Pickard
Contributors: Robert Adlington, Edward Breen, Joanne Cormac, George Hall, Katy Hamilton, Kenneth Hamilton, Monika Hennemann, Elizabeth Kelly, Emily MacGregor, Simon Paterson, Owen Rees, Hugo Shirley and Alexandra Wilson.
Illustrations: Nicky Ackland-Snow 

[...] Hildegard believed her visions came directly from God, but writing in his 1985 book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks noted the similarity of Hildegard’s visions to experiences of severe migraine sufferers. In her two surviving codices Hildegard’s illustrations of her visions show brightly coloured gures radiating from a central point with prominent points of light, all consistent with current medical understanding of migraines. [...]
 Available from Amazon (March 2017). To pre-order click here.

6 Jan 2017

Gombert: Motets II

BEAUTY FARM (Bart Uvyn [countertenor], Florian Schmitt [tenor], Adriaan De Koster [tenor], Hannes Wagner [tenor], Christoph Drescher [bariton]) Joachim Höchbauer [bass]
Fra Bernardo FB 1612457

This double album of motets by Nicolas Gombert (c.1495-1560) from vocal ensemble, Beauty Farm is their second release offering several more debut recordings and adding considerably to our picture of this intriguing renaissance composer.

Yet there is so much to enjoy on this album, especially from the spicy harmonic twists of Hortus Conclusus, previously recorded at higher pitch by The Brabant Ensemble (CDA67614). This track demonstrates what is rapidly becoming the trademark style of Beauty Farm: an extremely rich, treacley sound from lower voices whose carefully cultivated homogeneity sublimates dissonance. To this end, there is a superb rendition of Media Vita which alone is worth the album price.

To read the full text of this article please visit www.gramophone.co.uk (January 2017)