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WEELKES (c.1575-1623) Sacred Choral Music O Jonathan [2.31]
Rejoice in the Lord [1.33] All people clap your hands [2.05] Te Deum andJubilate from the Eighth Service [12.40] O how amiable are thy dwellings [3.29] Christ rising again [6.12] When David heard [4.23] Laboravi in gemitu meo [4.35] O vos omnes [4.23] The Third Service Evening Canticles ‘in F fa ut’ [8.41] Lord, to thee I make my moan [2.23] Give ear, O Lord [4.44] Hosanna to the son of David [2.06]
Abbey Schola Cantorum/Benjamin Nicholas
rec. 4-6 May 2008, Dean Close School Chapel, Cheltenham DELPHIAN DCD34070 [59.52]
Although essentially a church musician
and one who worked in Winchester, Chichester and in London
it was as a madrigalist that Weelkes originally made his
reputation. This came in his twenties with his breathtaking
contribution ‘As Vesta was from Latmos Hill descending’ in
Morley’s collection known as ‘The Triumphs of Oriana’.
Throughout his time as organist he produced madrigal books.
These are from 1597 (was he really only about 22?), 1598,
1600 and 1608; in all about ninety-four pieces. His church
music cannot be dated at all easily as most of it survives
in later copied manuscript sources, and in organ score.
He was prolific with, for example, ten settings of the
evening canticles. An exuberant composer, his church music
is certainly informed by his madrigal writing. He is often
thought of as something of an eccentric
It’s good that, as well as some familiar
anthems Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum also tackle some
little heard repertoire. This includes the ‘Third Service’ which
had to be reconstructed, as have other services like the
Fifth, from an organ short score. But what of this choral
Back in the early 1970s a preparatory
school was founded in Tewkesbury by a local keen musician
Miles Amherst with the express purpose of singing Evensong
during the week days. I know this because I sang with them
for some years. Sadly in 2006 the school had to close but
the tradition continued under Benjamin Nicholas who is
Director of Choral Music at Dean Close Prep School in which
capacity he also directs the men and boys of the Cantorum.
To my knowledge this is their second disc.
One review of their first disc quoted
at the back of the booklet in December 2007 stated boldly “I
doubt whether there are many more admirable choirs outside
Westminster, Oxford or Cambridge”, I therefore had high
expectations. Although the singing can often be very fine
I find it inconsistent in tuning especially the boys as
when they are divided. You can hear this in for example
the demanding six-voice anthems ‘Hosanna to the Son of
David’ and ‘When David Heard’. There they seem to be pushing
at the upper notes and sound a little strained. Perhaps
these works were recorded at the end of a demanding session
but I sometimes find the sound a little stressful. Not
always however; other pieces, such as ‘Lord I make my moan’ and ‘O
Jonathan’, come off much better. A more rounded sound but
with an even shorter playing time is encountered on another
all-Weelkes disc; this time from Christ Church Cathedral
Oxford on Nimbus (NI 5125).
The Te Deum and Jubilate which
are mostly in cathedral repertoires at present are reconstructions
and form a part of the Eighth service. It is typical of
Weelkes’ style to contrast homophonic writing with close
imitative writing as here and also to self-quote as happens
in many of the pieces. ‘All people clap your hands’, an
Ascension-tide anthem, is more than alluded to in the service.
Looking now at some of the other pieces
it may seem odd that this composer of often quite frivolous
madrigals and canzonets could also write Latin motets. ‘Laboravi
in gemitu meo’ is probably a tribute to Morley who also
set the text. It even uses one or two of his motifs. ‘O
vos omnes’ was only discovered as recently as 1989 and
is quite passionate and moving. I can’t help but wonder
why Weelkes wrote them. My own speculation would be that
they are both early works written before Morley died in
1602 and during the reign of Queen Elizabeth who tolerated
Latin music. It seems anyway, as Peter James mentions in
his detailed and useful booklet notes, that the former
may well have been composed by Weelkes for his B.Mus. exam
entry in 1602.
The Evening Canticles set recorded here
is the Third. It has the curious subtitle ‘in F fa ut’ which
refers to the tonality based around the ancient theory
of the hexachord, the third one in this case. It reflects
the rising interest in tonality - in this case based in
the modern key of F.
The brief but delightful anthem ‘Rejoice
in the Lord’ using words from Psalm 33 gives the men a
chance to shine. The same can be said of what is probably
my favourite piece on the disc, the serenely madrigalian ‘O
how amiable are thy dwellings’.
The verse anthem - including solo sections
- was to develop further right into the early 19th century.
As a form it is represented here by the Jubilate, the Nunc
Dimittis and ‘Give ear O Lord’. The lively ‘Christ rising
again’, with its exciting word painting, is certainly a
tribute to Byrd’s verse anthem on the same text.
Although the booklet is adorned with a
somewhat blue photo of the east end of Tewkesbury Abbey
the recordings were made in the fine chapel at Dean Close
School the acoustic of which plays an important and pleasing
part in this recording.
It’s disappointing that Weelkes has yet
to have a CD completely devoted to his secular music. While
his church music is sung throughout the kingdom and beyond
this disc offers a rare chance to hear several pieces otherwise
little known. The performances are generally spirited and
well conceived. Allowing for my earlier criticism, the
singing is wonderfully warm, clear and beautifully balanced
and the soloists all have clear and vibrant voices. Worth
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