If there is a perfect
form of vocal music, it is the madrigal.
If there is a perfect ensemble to sing
it, it is the Consort of Musicke. Although
there have been dozens of fine choirs
and ensembles that have performed and
recorded this repertoire over the years,
not one of them can match the esprit,
vocal quality and sensitivity to the
declamation of texts that Mr. Rooley
and his merry band of fine soloists
About Thomas Morley,
despite his fame as a composer, is precious
little known. He was born in or around
1557, and was educated at Oxford, earning
a B.Mus. degree there in 1588. Even
before his collegiate training though,
his abilities were evident from his
appointment as master of the choristers
in Norwich in 1583. By 1591, he was
organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral in
London, and was made a Gentleman of
the Chapel Royal the following year,
a post he retained until his death.
He was a student of
William Byrd, and like his famous teacher,
also composed works for the church,
for various instrumental consorts and
for the keyboard. A musician of wide
reaching influence, he published, edited
and printed many volumes of music, and
was the author of a well-respected treatise,
"A Plaine and Easie Introduction
to Practicall Musicke," in
which he explains the rules of contemporary
musical practice through a clever dialogue
between master and pupil. An enterprising
businessman, he sought and obtained
a monopoly on the printing of music
The English Madrigal
is an import of sorts, coming across
the continent to Britain from Italy.
The English, however, made the genre
their very own, and despite the relatively
brief era in which the madrigal was
in fashion, left behind a wealth of
musical treasures in the form. Morley,
who was perhaps not the finest of the
English madrigalists, certainly contributed
to the genre’s popularity through his
publications. One of the most important
of these is the Triumphes of Oriana,
published in 1601 as a tribute to
Queen Elizabeth I. Each of the twenty-five
madrigals in the book ends with the
refrain "Then sang the shepherds
and nymphs of Diana, long live faire
Oriana!" This collection contains
some of the finest examples of the colorful
text settings and delicious vocal harmonies
and counterpoint that were the hallmark
of the form.
The recording at hand,
now over twenty years old, is as fresh
and wonderful as the day it was born.
The blend of vocal timbres is as near
perfect as could be hoped for anywhere.
Rooley cleverly chooses a variety of
voicings and tempi to make a same-style
compilation come alive with variety
Of particular merit
are Hard by a crystal fountain, from
the Oriana collection, the achingly
sad O grief, ev’n on the bud
and the splendid motet, Hark, Alleluia
written in tribute to Henry Noel.
Flawless ensemble and
intonation are the trademarks of this
group, and they certainly do not disappoint
here. The solo aires are delivered with
color, grace and a wonderful sensitivity
to the poetry. Rhythmic precision and
clarity of the texts are above reproach.
This is such refreshing music, that
it is a gift indeed for these performances
to be again available.
Program notes by Sally
Dunkley are superb, and production values
and sound quality are of the first order.
Recommended without a moment’s hesitation.