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The Crown of Thorns: Music from the Eton Choirbook
Richard DAVY (c.1465-1507) Motet - Stabat Mater [13’13]
John BROWNE (fl.c.1490) Carol - Jesu, mercy, how may this be? [9’32]
William CORNYSH the elder (d.1502) Motet - Stabat Mater [16’52]
SHERYNGHAM (fl.c.1500) Carol - Ah. gentle Jesu [10’51]
John BROWNE (fl.c.1490) Motet - Stabat Mater [13’31]
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
Recorded January 1992 at St. Bartholomew’s, Orford
Originally released on Collins 1316-2
CORO COR16012 [64’32]
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The Eton Choirbook is one of the very few missals to have survived the Reformation, with its consequent destuction of Monasteries and burning of texts and music. It gives a fascinating insight into how 16th century music in this country would have sounded. This disc is as much a valuable document as the music text. The striking moments are the progression from two to four- or five-part choir, together with the ornamentation given to long phrases, with obvious derivations from plainsong. A good example of this is in the Cornysh Stabat Mater [track 3, 1’40] (Ludwig points 4). The other feature of note is the consistently high singing demanded from the sopranos (presumably boys in the period when written). This has to be very wearing, and breath control is all important [track 1, 6’10] (Ludwig points 5). As is pointed out in the admirable booklet accompanying the disc, this music is not easy to sing, and given the conditions and surroundings, is fortunate to have been found, indeed to have survived the rigours of the time. The Carols (so-called because of their refrains) are best exemplified by Sheryngham in his Ah, gentle Jesu, complete with old English language and pronunciation [track 4, 4’05] (Ludwig points 5). In view of the "sameness" of the music during this period, it is tempting to think that this disc could be boring. Anything but! I found it fascinating and interesting with exemplary performances from The Sixteen with virtually seamless singing.

It seems churlish to criticise such a presentation, but two items must be noted; in the otherwise excellent booklet, the performances are noted as being recorded in 1995; this is patently mistaken as the Collins disc was released in 1992. On page 3, there is an obvious mistake in ‘outsanding’ (sic), and I am not at all sure that Orford should not be Oxford. The other point of significance is that it takes a full 18 seconds at the start of the disc, before the choral entries.

These points apart, it is a pleasure to welcome back this invaluable disc and music to the catalogue. It is a treasured document reflective of a time of upheaval in English life and music. It cannot be too highly recommended. It is to be hoped that The Sixteen will complete their series on the Eton Choirbook.

John Portwood

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