16 Oct 2021

Icons: James Bowman

In celebration of James Bowman's forthcoming 80th birthday, Edward Breen looks back on a long and splendid career which established the countertenor voice in mainstream musical life.

For more than three decades James Bowman was the figurehead of the countertenor revolution: his discography spans Leonin to Britten and beyond, he has performed with crumhorns, sung about Eglantine and firmly obliterated any notion of the countertenor as a limited voice.

As a teenager I was first bewitched by his recital with the Ricercar consort: Cantate Ad Alto Solo, especially his performance of Vivaldi’s Vestro principi divino, RV 633 (04/93) with its smooth lines and stylish sense of rhythm. I envied his warm, immediate sound and tried in vain to emulate the evenness of his lower register. It wasn’t long before I heard him sing Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I was captivated anew. Like those who discover new films through the work of a favourite actor, I followed James Bowman through the countertenor repertoire unaware that at the same time his very performances were defining new boundaries for that voice. Coming a generation after both Alfred Deller - who spearheaded the countertenor revival in England - and the impressively stentorian-toned Russel Oberlin in America, Bowman offered something more straightforward, joyful and, crucially, robust. Live and on record his energy and enthusiasm were palpable.


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

8 Oct 2021

Regnart: Missa Christ ist erstanden & other works

Regnart: Missa Christ ist erstanden & other works

Hyperion CDA68369

Regular readers will know that I hold Cinquecento in especially high regard so it will come as no surprise if I open by saying that this new disc, their third to feature works by Jacob Regnart (c1540-1599), maintains their exquisitely high quality of both performance and progamme. The most famous of five musical brothers, Jacob (Jacques) Regnart was one of several Netherlanders to hold posts at the German Hapsburg court, and his music at times reminds me of the sonorous contrapuntal density of Gombert (c1495-c1560) but, as Stephen Rice points out, a much closer comparison can be made with Lassus (c1530-1594) both in terms of clarity of texture and especially when considering the variety and sheer quantity of output.


Missa Freu dich, du werthe Christenheit (Rejoice, O worthy Christendom) offers a more bewitchingly tuneful texture reflecting the longer phrases of its model. The gentle unfurling of the imitative Kyrie phrases are magical on this recording and listen out especially for a joyful countertenor moment in the Gloria at Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris (who sits at the right hand of the Father); it’s not called Ars Perfecta for nothing.

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