When I first saw this CD advertised
I thought that it might be rather closely
related to another Chandos CD of similar
repertoire recorded by Sirinu ('All
Goodly Sports' the complete music of
Henry VIII) (see review below).
I am delighted to say that I was completely
First, the 'Sirinu'
disc concentrates purely on Henry. Secondly
they use a wide variety of instruments.
Thirdly Sirinu deploy up to five voices
for each song.
The most significant
difference is that on this new CD we
are entertained by only three recorder
players with an occasional interference
from the effervescent Michael Metzler
The music on the disc
is from the so-called 'Henry VIII manuscript'
of c.1520 copied by professionals. The
manuscript contains 109 compositions
mostly with texts and mostly anonymous.
These tunes were quite probably known
in England at the time. The famous song
by Ghizegehem is a three part version
found in the manuscript.
Lying outside this
manuscript and slightly out of place
in this company is the rhythmical, Spanish
'Dindiridin'. In the same category is
an arrangement by Sylvia Rosin (one
of the recorder players) of a dance
by Attaignant which brings the disc
to a lively conclusion.
The excellent introductory
booklet essay by Susanne Fontaine falls
into three sections: 'Self-fashioning'
in which she discusses the context of
Henry's most famous song 'Pastyme with
good companye', 'The Henry VIII manuscript'
and finally the 'Kings musical education'.
Mentioned in this context are that most
archetypal of all Tudor composers and
William Cornysh and the shadowy but
influential Giles Duwes, the lutenist
who probably taught Henry the rudiments
of composition. Cornysh’s dates are
given as 1465-1523, however there were
certainly two ‘William Cornyshs': father
and son. The father seems to have died
in 1502 and composed only church music.
His date of birth is unknown but he
was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal.
His son was born into musical privilege.
He concentrated on secular works and
wrote such delightful miniatures as
the now well known canons 'Ah, Robin'
and 'My love sche morneth'. I was surprised
that this was not noted in the aforementioned
essay. John Stevens in his 'Music and
Poetry in the Early Tudor Court' (Cambridge
1961) lists about twelve pieces by Cornysh,
second only in number to the King.
So how does the Ensemble
Dreikoung Berlin approach the music?
They play a variety of recorders and
the programme is carefully balanced
in tempi and in its contrast of serious
and lighter pieces. But is that enough?
As usual we are not
told which edition is being used by
the players. I have in front of me John
Stevens' edition of the complete works
of Henry VIII (Stainer and Bell) in
which repeats and pauses are indicated
as in the manuscript. Take for example
the exquisite Consort V. This can be
played in a beautifully expressive and
slow manner and is most effective in
this way (Circa 1500 'Music for Mary
Rose' on ASV). On the Chandos disc it
is rather rushed, some of the pauses
are ignored and the phrase lengths are
left uneasily hanging. EDB play it twice
giving us more time with the piece.
Also they perform the marked repeat
(i.e., the three bars or more precisely
the last eight) tactus. Henry's Consort
VIII is played straight in a forthright
manner. In his Consort XI we are first
given the middle part alone then the
middle and lower parts as in some recordings
of medieval motets showing how they
might have been put together. Then all
three are played through twice. The
marked repeat of the last sixteen beats
in the MS is not given. It is an effective
performance but not what Henry would
have expected to hear.
The performances of
the songs vary in approach. The CD opens
with the melancholy song 'Whereto should
I express'. We hear a solemn drum beat
under the solo melody. Then follows
the three-part version. The drum beat
is played twice before being left alone
eventually to accompany just an elaborated
version of the melody. This then eventually
fades like a disappearing procession.
The drum is used, quite dramatically,
in 'Pastyme', an arrangement which uses
a drone in lower recorders. The three
part version follows with a little,
pleasant ornamentation. Cornysh's 'Blow
thy horn hunter' is played by high descant
and sopranino recorders answered, an
octave lower, by trebles. This is very
effective especially with the flashy
tambourine in harness. Cornysh's 'Ah
Robin' is accompanied somewhat puzzlingly
by a tolling bell and begins on low
bass and tenor recorders in a rather
lugubrious manner; the bell has the
Each of the performers
has contributed an arrangement of which
the 'Greensleeves' one is particularly
I could go on, but
there is hardly ever a boring moment
on this CD. Much thought has gone into
varying the textures and colours of
each piece. Although I would not recommend
it, the disc could be played from start
to finish in one sitting and offer much
All Goodly Sports:
The Complete Music of Henry VIII
'Wherto shuld I expresse' [3:20]
Consort XXIII [0:33]
'Thow that men do call it dotage' [3:06]
'Grene growith the holy' [2:51]
Consort V [1:11]
'Withowt dyscord' [1:50]
Consort II [0:52]
'Helas madam' [1:44]
Consort XII [1:25]
'Alac, alac, what shall I do' [0:44]
Consort XIV [0:48]
'Pastyme with good companye' [3:33]
'The tyme of youthe' [3:19]
Consort IV [2:24]
'Departure is my chef payne' [2:12]
Consort XVI [1:06]
'Lusti yough shuld us ensue' [4:44]
'En vray amoure' [1:07]
'Whoso that wyll for grace sew' [2:14]
Consort XIII [0:56]
'Adew madam et ma mastres' [1:23]
'Alas, what shall I do for love?' [0:56]
Consort VIII [0:52]
'It is to me a ryght gret joy' [1:47]
Consort XV [1:19]
'O my hart' [2:57]
'Whoso that wyll all feattes optayne'
'Gentil prince de renom' [1:00]
'Though sum saith that yough rulyth
Consort III [0:37]
'If love now reynyd' (version 1) [2:54]
'If love now reynyd' (version 2) [1:13]
Consort XXII [1:23]
with Hugh Wilson tenor
Recorded in: St George's Church, Cambridge,
11-13 August 1997; 28 January 1998
CHANDOS CHAN 0621 [65:58]
Now come on, how many
of you would regard Henry as one of
the country’s most important composers?
Well, think again; there is quite an
important body of music by him. He left
34 secular compositions in French and
English (John Stevens’ complete edition
published by Stainer and Bell lists
35, because ‘Pastime with Good Company’
is given in two slightly different versions).
That is more than any other composer
of his age, and he was the first British
composer to write purely instrumental
music, which he calls Consorts - twelve
in all. His style can sometimes reflect
that of the late 15th Century, being
extremely contrapuntal with considerable
rhythmic complexity as in his best piece,
the purely instrumental ‘Taundernaken’
or can be a homophonic partsong with
simple tonic, dominant harmonies in
a new style beginning to emerge at this
time. Most of his music is in three
parts, five pieces and half of a sixth
are in four parts, and there are two
canons in four parts.
Henry VIII was a very
keen musician who surrounded himself
with the best musicians of his day.
He enlarged the household chapel to
include the following, organs, regals,
virginals, lutes, gitterns harps, viols,
rebecs, sackbuts, shawms, dulcians,
crumhorns, bagpipes and much more. He
pulled in continental musicians, and
certainly had William Cornish his Master
of the King’s Children standing over
him whilst he was composing. The Henry
VIII Manuscript contains all of his
songs and several by Dutch and French
musicians who must have visited the
court bringing their latest pieces with
them. Henry attempts to emulate their
style sometimes with mixed results.
Listen for example to Gentil prince
de renom’ performed here instrumentally.
Perhaps Henry is most successful when
he is staying with a simple harmonisation
of possibly his own sometimes melancholy
texts, as with ‘Green Grow’th the holly’.
In the Manuscript only the burden has
music but Sirinu perform the verse as
on some other recordings that is to
take the top line of the song ‘Whereto
should I express’ and a little of the
middle part to make an attractive unaccompanied
Sirinu play many of
the instruments listed in Henry’s inventory.
The group consist of five musicians
all of whom are instrumentalists (as
clearly listed in the booklet) and four
of whom sing. The performances (generally
most delightful) are far and away superior
to a previous attempt to record much
of Henry’s music by the German group
the ‘Isaak ensemble’ (Bayer Records
100132) who also insert some of Henry’s
love letters to Anne Boleyn therefore
not having room for all of the songs.
In fact Sirinu record some pieces which
I cannot recall hearing anywhere before
i.e. ‘The tyme of youth’ with its uniquely
ornamented top line in the manuscript.
Sirinu perform it as written but alternating
each verse with a simplified version
For the more robust
songs like ‘Pastime’ I find the singing
to be a little diffident and there are
one or two slightly eccentric performances.
I cannot help but feel that in the canon
‘It is my right great joy’ two singers
and a regal is odd when 3 voices would
have been more logical, and in the beautiful
song ‘O my heart’ the three parts are
performed over a drone D creating some
harmonies inconsistent with the rest
of the CD before the instrumentalists
fly off into a wild improvisation based
on this innocent little tune rather
as if they have been suddenly released
from the Tower of London.
Even so this is an
attractive disc by a scholarly and exciting
group of young musicians which focuses
on our most musical monarch and an important
figure in 16th Century English music.
Texts are printed plus an interesting
introductory essay by Matthew Spring
who is also a performer.
How many of you would regard Henry as
one of the country’s most important
composers? Well, think again ... see