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Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)
With A Merrie Noyse: Church Music

This is the record of John; Almighty and everlasting God; A Voluntary; The Second Service - Morning and Evening; Hymns and Songs for the church: Nos. 1 and 9; A Fancy for Double Organ; O clap your hands together; Great King of Kings; See, see the word is incarnate
The Choir of Magdalene College, Oxford/Bill Ives
Jonathan Hardy (organ)
Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold, Peter Harvey, Stephen Connolly
Robin Bhattacharya, William Roome, Michael Hickman, William Harpin (trebles)
Recorded in Magdalen Chapel, July 2003
HARMONIA MUNDI 907337 [59.40]

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A professor I knew well at one of London's top conservatoires once told us that Gibbons' heart attack at the youthful age of 42 was brought about by sheer overwork and that he died whilst playing the organ at Westminster Abbey. The former may be true; the latter is not, as anyone who has seen his memorial tablet in Canterbury Cathedral can tell you.

Gibbons can also be associated with King's College, Cambridge, where he was a choirboy under the direction of his elder brother Christopher. The King's College recording of Gibbons Church music I shall be mentioning along the way. Gibbons is also linked with the choir at Magdalen, to whom a music book of Gibbons' anthems was presented in 1673. This book contains all of the pieces on this CD. Thus in two paragraphs four of the most outstanding institutions for church music can be linked with this very important and influential figure.

The words of the title of the CD 'With a Merrie noyse' come from Psalm 47 which is set in 'O Clap your hands together' perhaps one of Gibbons most unbuttoned anthems, popular but not typical.

If the portrait of him which adorns the beautifully presented folder accompanying this recording, is anything to go by he was one of the rather a tight-lipped and austere early 'thou shalt not enjoy thyself' protestants. Indeed on performing some of his music, not least the often slightly severe madrigals, and in listening to these pieces of church music, one can imagine him in this characteristic role. As much as I love his music, and I have known it for over forty years, it can be like some pieces by William Byrd, rather earnest and serious in its counterpoint and choice of texts.

But what Gibbons does so supremely well is write melodies. Think of 'The Silver Swan' or, as on this CD, think of the Hymn 'Come kiss we those lips of thine'. That title, needless to say could never have found itself in ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern' although the tune is in with the text 'Forth in thy name O Lord I go'.

The Kings College Cambridge recording of Gibbons under Philip Ledger is now over twenty years old (on ASV GAU 123); it was first released on LP. If you think that this new CD at less than an hour is short, the Kings' recording is seven minutes shorter. In any event the comparison may be helpful as that disc contains such similar works.

This new disc has all of the non a capella pieces accompanied by a consort of viols. This is because, to quote the excellent booklet notes by David Skinner, 'There is little doubt that this music would have been performed in a domestic context with viols (or various combinations of instruments) but there is little evidence that viols would have been a regular occurrence in church. On the other hand there is little evidence that viols were not used in church". He is not the first to record Gibbons with viols. Even back in the days of the LP, in the 1960s, it was done by The Purcell Consort of Voices and the Jay Consort of Viols (on Turnabout). It is interesting that on the ASV disc mentioned above the choir are joined by the mysteriously anonymous 'London Early Music Group' in three of the anthems including 'This is the Record of John'. This version incidentally has the mellifluous Michael Chance in the verses whereas Magdalene College go for Rogers Covey-Crump, a fine singer certainly and one very experienced in early music. However he is a tenor with that particular timbre; normally an alto will be encountered in a cathedral performance. The other soloists are convincing and experienced performers. The four treble soloists, named only inside the booklet but who are pictured within, are superb in intonation and balance especially in the 'Te Deum' from the 2nd Service.

The sound of this new recording is very immediate, as if you are sitting facing the choir, a friend of mine described it as 'in your face'. This makes an anthem like 'O Clap your hands' very exciting. The King's recording is more recessed; more one might say, conservative and typical of its period twenty years ago when church music was held more at arm's length. The 'Kings' performances are traditional whereas on this new disc Bill Ives has produced an unusual sound, not one suitable for cathedral or college evensong but one more fitted to the private chapel, i.e., in a more confined space than such a choir would expect. It is immediate and arresting.

Of the other works, 'Great King of Kings' is usually known with its Victorian Whitsuntide words 'Great Lord of Lords supreme immortal King'. The organ pieces work beautifully, breaking up the choral ones at apt intervals and are delicately ornamented, at times I felt overly so.

The CD booklet with its attractive pictures and illustrations is attached to the cardboard cover and is a joy to hold. All texts are given, and like the essay are translated into French and German. Not only does David Skinner tell us about the music. He also writes eloquently about the circumstances surrounding the composer's death!

Gary Higginson

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