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Flower of Cities All - Music in London 1580-1620
The Song Called Trumpets; Wanton; Paradizo; My Selfe; The Bells; Venus’ Birds; The Queen’s Good Night; Pakington’s Pownde; Miserere; Christe Qui Lux; Flow my Teares; Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens; Courtly Masquing Ayre; All ye who love; Rowland; Fortune My Foe; Fortune My Foe; Pawles Wharfe; The Leaves be Green; The Bull Maske; Adson’s Maske; Fair Britain Isle; Fantasia a5 no. 3; O Mistris Myne; The Lord Zouche’s Maske; Grayes Inne Maske; Courtly Masquing Ayre; Courtly Masquing Ayre
The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble
rec. Forbe Abbey, Dorset, February 2006; All Saints East Finchley, London, December 2006.
DEUX-ELLES DXL1118 [74:16]
Experience Classicsonline

Renaissance London in the late 1500s and early 1600s was joining the major trading cities of Europe in a ‘Golden Age’ of commercial expansion. This wealth was inevitably accompanied by an equal advancement in patronage of the arts, and the music on this disc represents pieces that would have been heard in the courts and Royal Palaces, as well as at occasions such as weddings and funerals. Musicians at the royal court would have been employed as part of the monarch’s servant retinue, and been available to entertain or provide dance music at ‘maskings’ or ‘revels’, or to provide ceremonial gravitas at state occasions. The status of instruments at the time is also interesting – wind and brass being seen as the province of professionals, lute and strings more suitable for amateur gentlemen or ladies. There is of course some logic to this, with the quieter more genteel plucked or bowed instruments being far more suited to a home environment – a sentiment with which the neighbours of orchestral brass players would no doubt agree to this day.
The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble has been around since 1993, and has established itself as one of the most respected specialists in this musical field, and in brass instruments of the period in particular. The collective sound of the brass ensemble is quite gentle and rounded in character, but certainly not lacking in dynamic and rhythmic variety. Intonation is of course impeccable, and I sometimes wonder if our standard today hasn’t already risen above that which would have been expected of musicians at the time. This we shall never know, but in any case, these are recordings and performances of impeccable pedigree.
Many of the composers whose work is represented here will be familiar to fans of early music. William Byrd crossed with ease between church and secular music making, and appears here with a Miserere and Christe Qui Lux deriving from the former, and numbers such as The Leaves be Green and Fair Britain Isle the latter, though the essentially introvert and sombre mood is retained in both idioms. John Adson gives us some livelier ‘Maske’ music, as does Giles Farnaby in some pieces arranged by William Lyons of the Dufay Collective, whose research of London in the 16th and 17th centuries seems likely to produce more projects of this nature.
With large quantities of music in similar idiom and for comparable instrumentation, contrast has to be the name of the game when keeping up ones interest in a programme of this nature. This production does well in this regard, with wind ensemble works of varying character being alternated, or works by certain composers forming mini ‘suites’. Mark Chambers sings attractively where the music demands vocals, and there is an elegant sufficiency of pieces with virginals from the ‘Fitzwilliam Virginal Book’, including Byrd’s remarkable The Bells. Sensitive lute accompaniment goes with other songs, such as John Dowland’s famous Flow my Teares. There are plenty of little gems to be discovered, and my only minor criticism is that there is no specific information about composers such as Jerome Bassano or Valentine Haussmann in William Lyons’ booklet notes. For those interested in historical performance of this period this is an admirable and highly enjoyable collection.
Dominy Clements


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