> Voices of Angels [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Voices of Angels
Walter LAMBE (c1450-1499)

Salve Regina
WILLIAM MONK OF STRATFORD (fl 15-16th century)

John PLUMMER (c1410-1484)

Tota Pulchra est
Anna Mater Matris Christi
Richard DAVY (c1465-1507)

Salve Regina
In Honore Summae Matris
The Sixteen
Harry Christophers
Recorded St Bartholomew’s, Orford January 1995
CORO COR16002 [61’59]


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Originally released on Collins 14622 this 1995 recording was Volume 5 in The Sixteen’s Eton Choirbook series. Few but superlatives are in order from the booklet to the sound quality, from the repertoire to the performances, from the sensible introductory material to the full texts and translations. Coro is The Sixteen’s own new label, an edition which is drawing on its extensive catalogue of recordings, each disc containing a preface written by Harry Christophers himself.

This disc shows convincingly how accelerated was the advance in early Tudor music, how unlike their continental contemporaries were the English composers of that generation and how abundantly complex and dense was the style cultivated by the greatest of the musicians here, the remarkable Richard Davy. His Salve Regina is freely composed, without plainchant, the declamatory floridity of the writing a real challenge to the choir, lower voicings strong, independent and powerful, the increasing complexity of the writing reaching to the high voices as well, the sonority one of the utmost depth and plangency. The extensive In Honore Summae Matris has some florid internal parts, with a line quivering with amplitude, with occasional recourse to high and low oppositionally pitched voice parts and a beautiful forest of complex, almost quasi-melismatic profundity. Walter Lambe’s exquisitely discursive but massively accomplished Salve Regina makes a feature of fluidity and flux with lines coming and going, voices magically withdrawn, both in terms of volume and tone. The composer known as William Monk of Stratford probably served at the Cistercian Abbey of Stratford-atte-Bowe in Essex. His Magnificat was specifically set for men’s voices and not for boys. Undated, accomplished, tending to a kind of passionate severity it’s his sole surviving work and beautifully performed here. John Plummer wrote rather earlier than the other composers here. He is expert in his idiosyncratic way at allocating melody lines to a few voices. His apparent simplicity – a strange stasis – never entirely masks a wonderful kind of reflective and emotive intimacy as he contrasts full with smaller voice "blocks" to optimum effect – most notably in Tota Pulchra est. In his Anna Mater Matris Christi he appears like a cool bath after Davy’s gorgeously entwined Salve Regina – Plummer emerging sparse, not ascetic, but spare, contained, not without flourishes and theatricalities of his own but with an aesthetic significantly more withdrawn than the later, more obviously outgoing Davy. Who would want to be without either?

Such care, beauty of tone and thoughtfulness have been lavished on this disc that further recommendation is rather redundant. These are great works, superbly performed.

Jonathan Woolf

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