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Thomas WEELKES (1576-1623)
Voluntarie I, organ solo [2:01] *
Alleluia! I heard a voice [2:35]
All laud and praise [5:49]
Laboravi in gemitu meo [3:36]
Give the King thy judgements [5:03]
Pavan, organ solo [2:56] *
O Lord, arise [3:04]
Service for trebles [9:45]
Magnificat [5:22]
Nunc dimittis [4:14]
Give ear, O Lord [5:13]
Voluntarie II, organ solo [1:58] *
If King Manasses [6:40]
When David heard [4:33]
O how amiable [2:47]
Gloria in excelsis Deo [3:05]
O Jonathan [2:43]
Hosanna to the Son of David [1:54]
Winchester Cathedral Choir/David Hill
Timothy Byram-Wigfield (organ) *
rec. 21-24 January 1991, Winchester Cathedral, United Kingdom. DDD
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55259 [65:32] 

 


This welcome CD first appeared in the early 1990s on CDA66477 as part of Hyperion’s ‘English Orpheus’ series. It celebrates the choral writing of one of the last generation to write in the English tradition established by Taverner and his contemporaries almost 150 years before Weelkes died. It does so without fuss; yet Winchester Cathedral Choir presents singing that’s direct and full of impact. 

Born in Sussex twenty or so years into Elizabeth’s reign, Weelkes lived, studied and/or worked at Winchester, Oxford, Chichester - where he seems to have led something of a dissolute life at times - and perhaps London. He did write some instrumental music - for consorts … it’s mostly rather dour. But Weelkes is best known for his focused and concentrated choral music; and best loved for his anthems. Here we have a dozen or so of these - carefully and enthusiastically performed. There are also three organ solos interspersed with the vocal works. These are played with a happy, light and equally meticulous touch by Timothy Byram-Wigfield, who is now at St George's, Windsor. 

When Weelkes was at his height, he was working in a very mature tradition. It was one which offered him a robust, distinct and accepted body of forms on which to build music for Evensong and Compline especially. 

Laboravi in gemitu meo is the only piece here that can be precisely dated. It was probably the six-part ‘test’ piece submitted by Weelkes for his Bachelor of Arts at Oxford; that was awarded in 1602. The other music here is all likely to have been written before Weelkes’ apparent ‘decline’ in his later years. It is all one of two types: the first comprises ‘full’ settings; these were performed either by the entire choir, or alternatim between the Decani and Cantoris facing one another. The second type was verse settings for up to six soloists - usually - accompanied by organ (later viol). There were still sections of full writing between the solo verses.

This distinction may not immediately be as obvious or clear-cut to the listener. Weelkes employed a sufficiently rich wealth of compositional techniques for the music sung here to sound fresh, and not to be restricted by any staid formula. The ‘full’ anthems are often divided into six parts with both trebles and bases doubling to give an airy feel to the music. This can be heard in the Gloria in excelsis Deo, Hosanna to the Son of David and Alleluia! I heard a voice - the latter actually in five parts - for instance.

It’s evident that Weelkes expected (and maybe got?) a pretty high standard of performance from his singers. The light and sinuous style of some of the music is influenced by Italian madrigalian techniques. There is some ornamentation and sense of improvisation in the instrumental pieces as well. Colour, spirit, consistency and real inventiveness characterise this music. The performers on this CD have internalised these qualities and convey them all admirably.

So this is hardly dense, sombre or overly puritan music. It has life, spring and restraint. Indeed here some of the composer’s best anthems have been particularly sensitively recorded. Such an approach has the tendency to draw the listener into its rather delicate world. On the whole, the choir - successors to Weelkes’ own choir 500 years ago! - sings well and convincingly. That said, some of the tenor soloists’ voices - drawn from the choir, actually - stand out by being a little idiosyncratic.

This is a CD which is unlikely to fail to please. It’s stirring and striking music performed with genuine conviction and technical competence consistently matched by a spirited style from experienced and insightful singers.

Mark Sealey 

 

 

 


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