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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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John TAVERNER (c.1490-1545)
Kyrie Leroy
[6.37]; Western Wind Mass [25.13]
William CORNYSH Jnr (d.1523)
Woefully arrayed [7.22]
SHERYNGHAM (c.1500)
Ah, gentle Jesu
[6.02]
John BROWNE (fl.1480-1505)
Jesu, mercy
Christopher TYE (c.1505-1573)
In pace [5.14]
Anon (c.1510)
Ah, my dear son [5.43]
Ars Nova Copenhagen/Paul Hillier
rec. St.Paul’s Church, Copenhagen, 19-24 July 2004. DDD
DA CAPO 8.226050 [65.32] 


 

Paul Hillier, ex-Hilliard Ensemble and ex-Theatre of Voices, is now in Denmark as director of Ars Nova Copenhagen. He has already moulded these sixteen adult singers into a fine choir, with a very English - even Oxbridge - feel. Is that a bad thing? I suspect not, as the sound now has international credentials and surely in this particular English repertoire is just right. This disc marks volume one of a pair, looking especially at two contrasting masses by John Taverner. There’s this early more intimate example and the long and spacious ‘Gloria tibi trinitas’. On each disc the mass is nicely divided up by contemporary part-songs, as they are called in the booklet, but I think that we might all agree that this is not an adequate nomenclature. These songs are from the Fayrfax manuscript. 

You may already know a version of the Western Wind Mass from a disc by the Sixteen recorded in 1991. That version weighs in at over three minutes slower, and I must say immediately that a faster tempo works perfectly well. There is also a fine version by King’s College under Philip Ledger on EMI. 

At first, when I heard the Ars Nova Choir I was struck by the acoustic of St.Paul’s Copenhagen; there was simply too much of it. The effect can spoil the diction and deprive us of the bass line. This is true here to a certain extent. But once I put headphones on I found that in large part the problems went away. When I heard the Mass on The Sixteen’s Hyperion recording in an unnamed church I found that the diction was most certainly less distinct, which is strange when the tempo is steadier. The King’s College recording is more closely microphoned, and has the advantage, if you regard it as such, of having trebles on the top line and then male altos. This is what the composer expected when he wrote the piece, probably when he worked at the Collegiate church at Tattershall in Lincolnshire. This magnificent church and late medieval house still survive and are worth seeing. 

Tudor Masses never have a polyphonic Kyrie eleison before the Gloria. Ars Nova get around this with a fine performance of the beautiful Kyrie Leroy, again probably an early work, in four parts. With this I started to warm to the recording and then more to the choir. This was especially so when we came to Cornysh’s ’Woefully arrayed’. 

Incidentally, there has been much debate about this composer. Most scholars seem to agree that there were two with the same name, probably father and son. Stevens ascribes this piece to Cornysh Junior but the piece is dated in the printed edition by Chesters as c.1500. Paul Hillier in his notes also seems to have them confused. Anyway this is a striking piece which, like Sherynham’s equally often recorded ‘Ah, gentle Jesu’, is a colloquy: the sinner often sung by the upper voices, God by the lower ones. There was a very fine performance of this piece on the old Saga label which appeared on CD briefly c.1994 by the Hilliard Ensemble, with Paul Hillier singing baritone. That had one voice to a part, but here it’s with full choir and it works beautifully. 

The Sheryngham song composed c.1500 has a somewhat long text. John Stevens in his ‘bible’ on the ‘Music and Poetry in the Early Tudor Court (Cambridge, 1961) states that it is probably by John Lydgate (c.1370-c.1450). It runs to six verses. Da Capo make the odd decision to print only four of the verses but the choir sing just two, the refrain returning after each. The disc has space for at least one more verse of this very moving piece. The Sixteen on their disc The Crown of Thorns now transferred to their own Coro label perform all six but allow the tempo to move on more fluidly. 

‘Jesu Mercy’ by the great John Browne is a four-part carol of simplicity and elegance. This also appears on the Sixteen’s Coro disc mentioned above. Both performances are spot-on although Ars Nova, as I have implied, have a more recessed ‘churchy’ sound which may be out of keeping with what is probably a chamber work as opposed to a church piece. 

The text of the anonymous ‘Ah my deir son’ also includes the well known lines ‘On enders night/ I saw a sight’. It is a Christmas Eve partsong - a Carol with strophic verses: a colloquy this time between the Virgin Mary and her newly-born son. From time to time this little song gets hopelessly lost in the vast spaces of Ars Nova’s recording venue and the words are often indistinct. The Sixteen recorded it and it is on ‘The Flower of all Virginity’ again on their Coro label. Although recorded at Orford Church in Suffolk the recording manages again to achieve an intimate chamber atmosphere that is surely more suitable. Also with all of The Sixteen’s performances of songs in English you have the bonus, if you regard it as such, of Tudor pronunciation. I think it works. 

Christopher Tye is from a generation later than Browne and Taverner. He writes, especially in his early Latin works in the more florid early Tudor style. His ‘In pace’ makes a suitable ending to this disc, excellent I think for late night listening. It has recently been released on Harmonia Mundi in a rather sleepy version by the choir of Magdalene College Oxford, which offers the contrast of being all-male. 

So to sum up. If you are fairly new to this repertoire then this disc could well be for you. It is after all a very beautiful performance of the Mass. The problem is for those of us who are a little long in the tooth and have quite a few recordings of this music. There is nothing here which would immediately make me think that this is the recording to have.  Although the singing is very fine there are too many things about it that I find irksome. 

The presentation is excellent in a cardboard slip-case. The booklet has all the texts, a useful essay by Paul Hillier and a note on the late Welsh artist David Jones whose rune-like inscriptive design is offered as a unique cover. 

Gary Higginson

see also Review by Kevin Sutton  RECORDING OF THE MONTH



 

 


 



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