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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



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Thomas TALLIS (c1505 - 1585): Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (5vv) [13’32] Recorded 1985. From CRD3429
Orlando GIBBONS (1583 - 1625) Te Deum (5vv) from the Second Service (1641) [10’39]. Edited Higginbottom. Released 1988. From CRD3451
Thomas TOMKINS (1572 - 1656): Te Deum (4/8vv) from the Great Service (1668) [11’28] Recorded 1990. From CRD3467
John TAVERNER (c.1490 - 1545): Western Wynde Mass (4vv) [22’43]. Released 1989. From CRD3473
William BYRD (1543 - 1623)

Motet: Laudibus in sanctis (5vv) [5’47]
Motet: Miserere mei, Deus (5vv) [3’43]
(Both published 1691 in Cantiones sacrae)
Released 1987, From CRD3439
Recorded in New College Chapel, Oxford
CD 2: Orlando DE LASSUS (1532 - 1594)
Motet (10vv): Aurora lucis rutilat [4’16] (pub.1604)
Motet (5vv): Tristis est anima mea [4’25] (pub.1565)
Missa (6vv) "Tous les regretz" [26’07] (1577)
Motet (6vv) Timor et tremor [5’54] (pub.1564)
Motet (6vv) Ave verum corpus [3’45] (pub.1582)
Motet (5vv) Surgens Jesus [3’22] (pub.1562)
Motet (4vv) Domine convertere [3.18] (pub.1585)
Motet (6vv) Salve Regina [4’47] (pub.1582)
Hymn (6vv) Veni creator [8’18] (1568)
All from Collins 1494-2
Recorded in New College Chapel, Oxford, 8-10 July 1996
CD 3: Eustache DU CAURROY (1549 - 1609)
Veni sanctus spiritus (4vv) [6’35]
Missa pro defunctis (5vv) [27’11] (pub.1636)
Benedicamus Domino (4vv) [2’36]
Ave Maria (4vv) [2’46]
Ave Virgo gloriosa (5vv) [5’48]
Salve Regina (4/5vv) [4’41]
Christe qui lux es (3/6vv) [12’34]
Motet: Victimae Paschali (3/8vv) [4’31] (pub.1609)
All from Collins 1497-2
Recorded at Abbaye de Valloires, Departement de Somme, France, 18-20
September 1996
CD 4: Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525 - 1594)
Sequence: Victimae Paschali a 8 [4’02]
Magnificat a 8 [5’29]
Nunc dimittis a 8 [3’54]
Motet: Dum complerentur a 6 [6’02]
Motet: Ad Dominum cum tribular a 4 [5’01] (From Motets Book 2, pub 1581)
Motet: Stabat mater a 8 [9’19]
Motet: Alma redemptoris a 4 [2’44]
Recordare a 3- a 8 [9’19] (Lamentations for Holy Saturday)
Motet: Ad te levavi oculos meos a 4 [6’31] (from Motets Book 2, pub.1831)
Veni sancte spiritus a 8 [3’41]
All from Collins 1509-2
Recorded in New College Chapel, Oxford, 21-23 July 1997
Disc 5: Philippus DE MONTE (1521 - 1603)
Miserere mei a 5 [3’57]
Peccavi super numerum a 6 [6’50]
Missa Si ambulavero a 6 [22’56]
Super flumina Babylonis a 8 [5’57]
Domine, quid multiplicati sunt [5’50]
Spes humani generis a 6 [3’26]
Domine Jesu Christe a 6 [4’17]
Angelus Domini descendit de caelo a 6 [5’33]
Hodie, dilectissimi, omnium sanctorum a 8 [6’07]
The Choir of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
All from Collins 1527-2
Recorded at Abbaye de Valloires, Departement de Somme, France, April 1998
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99937 [5CDs: 65’10+73’52+64’57+56’25+66’47]


Five discs for around £12.50! It seems too good to be true; or is it? On balance the answer is ‘no’, but there are a few reservations. The first thing to say is that in all the discs the recorded sound is excellent and truthful. As ever with less expensive sets, the booklets are sparse; this particularly applies to disc 1, where only the texts are given without any details on the composers. The other drawback is the lack of translation from the original Latin in any of the booklets. The final, and possibly most important caveat is the treble sound; in all but the last disc there is a stridency and almost harshness in the tone; I have seen it called reedy, but it is worse than this, and after a time listening can become wearing.

Having disposed with the general points of issue, the rest is only good. New College has a good choir which has been well rehearsed, trained and drilled by Edward Higginbottom. The attack is almost everywhere good, the intonation excellent, and the ensemble is well balanced and in most cases together. The only disc to suffer in any way is the first and earliest recorded disc. As can be seen, these items were taken from CRD recordings from 1985 - 1991, which incidentally are still available. This also is the only disc where the choir fall short of their otherwise high standard. There is some discordance and unevenness in the tone, and the ensemble work is uncertain at times, but I must emphasise that this is minimal and soon passes. Two other criticisms of this disc: surely it would have been better programming to have included the Jubilate with the Gibbons and the Tomkins Te Deums and omitted the Byrd pieces? Also the organist does sterling work but receives no credit (it is in fact David Burchell). All these works have other recordings, besides the CRD aforementioned; the Byrd Miserere mei is certainly better performed by the Cambridge Singers under John Rutter (Collegium COLCD107) although even here there is a hint of strain. However, this is a professional choir and also a full priced disc. Laudibus in sanctis comes off well against I Fagiolini (Chandos Chaconne CHAN0609) who sound too refined and lack bite; Christ Church Cathedral Choir conducted by Stephen Darlington give a very much better performance as near New College’s as to make no difference, and his trebles are better (Nimbus NI1762). Tallis’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are on the second disc in the Tallis series by the Chapelle du Roi under Alistair Dixon (Signum SIGCD002) who are much preferable (but again a professional choir and a full price disc). New College suffers here from a low recording level.

Disc 2 is much better in general ensemble, but at times becomes quite congested, particularly when there are ten voices, and the words also become obscured. In general the diction is very good, but I think here the ambience of New College is dry, and the polyphony also makes for a certain jumbling of sounds. The mass is interspersed with the motets, as was common practice at this period, although this can be disconcerting at first. There is no other recording of this six part work, as is the case with Veni creator and Domine convertere. Otherwise, Lassus is well served with recordings; the pick of the competition must be the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips on a Philips Duo (462 862-2PH2) who give a typically robust performance of Salve Regina. The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge conducted by Richard Marlow renew the inter-Varsity rivalry with very good performances of Timor et tremor and Aurora lucis rutilat. Both these of course are full price and do not cover the same repertory. The other comparison is with Pro Cantione Antiqua conducted by Bruno Turner, who perform Surgens Jesus either at full price on Hyperion Dyad (CDD22012) with other motets, the Requiem and Lamentations, or a duplicate issue of these works on Regis RRC1124 at budget price. Here, of course, the upper parts are taken by counter-tenors instead of trebles.

Disc 3 is, to my mind, the pick of the five; I had not heard of Eustache du Caurroy previous to hearing this disc, but what a find! These performances alone make the price of the whole set worthwhile. He was canon of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, prior of a monastery sixty miles away, and "Superintendent of the King’s Music" to Henri IV of France. He enjoyed high fame as a composer of both instrumental and choral music, and his Missa pro defunctis was the official Mass for the funerals of the French Kings. All the works performed here are beautifully sung, and the composition is often rich but also restrained. The "Amens" in particular deserve mention for the wonderfully swelling sound and devotion. The recording was made in the Abbaye de Valloires, and the ambience is brighter and not so dry as that of New College, the music benefiting accordingly. The other point worth mentioning is that these works are not otherwise available.

Disc 4 returns us to New College with Palestrina; all these works are otherwise available but not on one disc. The plum of the collection is undoubtedly Stabat Mater which is correspondingly well sung, as are the other items. The previous observations on performance and sound remain. On the documentation, the Lamentations are listed as Recordare.

Disc 5 is devoted to Philippus de Monte, and again most of the works are not otherwise available. de Monte was born at Mechlin in the Netherlands, and was spoken of as the rival to Palestrina. For about thirty-five years he was musical director at the court of the Holy Roman Empire, first at Vienna and then, when it was moved, at Prague. He was prolific in the composition of madrigals, motets and masses. There must have been a change in personnel of the choir, for here the harshness in treble tone has disappeared, and the performances are excellent, although I did find that my attention was not held so well as with other discs; admittedly the music does tend to have similar characteristics, which may be responsible. Again, the comments on previous discs are relevant here (apart from the trebles)

In summary, the total of the parts does equal the whole; Brilliant Classics deserve our thanks for restoring to the catalogue valuable contributions to this period of choral music. This collection would be worth acquiring at twice the asking price, and if the content is to your liking, I urge you not to hesitate … even for du Caurroy alone!

John Portwood


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