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Pastyme With Good Company: Music at the Court of Henry VIII
HENRY VIII (1491-1547) Whereto should I expresse; Taunder naken; Withowt discord; If love now reynyd; Pastyme with good companye; Whoso that wyll for grace sew; Consorts IV;V;VIII;XII;XIII;XIV;XV and XVI; Greensleeves (attrib) arr. Irmhild Beutler
HAYNE VAN GHIZEGHEM (1445-1497) De tous biens plaine ;
WILLIAM CORNYSH (c.1465-1523) Adew, adew, my heartis lust ; Blow thy horne hunter; A robyn; My love sche morneth.
PIERRE ATTAIGNANT (1494-1552) Tourdion arr. Rosin. Anonymous, J'ay pryse amours; Dindiridin; Si fortune; Consort IX arr. Ripper
Ensemble Dreiklung Berlin
Irmhild Beutler, Martin Ripper, Sylvia C. Rosin - recorders with Michael Metzler, percussion
Recorded at the Hochmeister-Saal Dreiklung Berlin October 2002 and February 2003
CHANDOS CHACONNE 0709 [56.02]

 


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 wrong.

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 on percussion.

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 final say.

Each of the performers has contributed an arrangement of which the 'Greensleeves' one is particularly striking.

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 pleasure.

Gary Higginson

Review from 1999

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]
Tandernaken [2:09]
'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' [2:55]
'Gentil prince de renom' [1:00]
'Though sum saith that yough rulyth me' [3:04]
Consort III [0:37]
'If love now reynyd' (version 1) [2:54]
'If love now reynyd' (version 2) [1:13]
Consort XXII [1:23]
Sirinu
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 melody.

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.

Gary Higginson
How many of you would regard Henry as one of the country’s most important composers? Well, think again ... see Full Review



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