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Great Tudor Anthems
William BYRD (1543-1623)
Laudibus in sanctis* [5:25]
Justorum animae* [3:13]
Thomas WEELKES (1576-1623)
Hosanna to the Son of David [2:05]
John TAVERNER (1490-1545)
Dum transisset Sabbatum* [6:01]
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656)
My beloved spake*1,3 [5:03]
O sing unto the Lord3* [3:16]
William BYRD
Teach me, O Lord2,3 [3:44]
Cantate Domino [2:23]
Ave verum corpus [3:55]
Sing joyfully [2:33]
Thomas TALLIS (1505-1585)
Salvator mundi I [2:53]
Thomas WEELKES
When David heard [3:52]
Gloria in excelsis Deo [3:14]
Thomas TOMKINS
Almighty God, the fountain [6:14]
When David heard [4:35]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)
O Lord, in thy wrath [3:17]
Hosanna to the Son of David [2:44]
John BLITHEMAN (c.1525-1591)
In Pace* [4:27]
William MUNDY (c.1529-1591)
O Lord, the maker of all thing* [2:35]
attr. Robert WHITE (c.1538-1574)
O Praise God3* [3:27]
1James Lindop, Robert Stringer (trebles), Stephen Shellard (countertenor), Simon Ravens (bass), 2Robert Stringer (treble), 3Raymond Johnston (organ), Worcester Cathedral Choir/Donald Hunt
rec. Worcester Cathedral, 22-23 April 1992, *9-11 June 1993. DDD
GRIFFIN GCCD 4053 [75:05]



Choral recordings nowadays are predominantly either devoted to a single composer or a choir singing repertoire from several centuries. So the chance this well performed and generously filled CD gives to look at Tudor anthems in general is welcome. A pity the presentation is less than ideal.
 
The front cover illustration, a Victorian painting of a Tudor binge, too readily suggests a jolly knees-up; granted there are some lively anthems. The back insert, instead of replicating the track-listing on the rear cover of the CD booklet, provides a scrambled list headed ‘includes (not in same order)’ in an order of presentation not readily discernible. A copyright and publication date of 2006 is given. Only when you get into the booklet do you discover that the anthems were recorded in 1992 and 1993. Nowhere is it made explicit that the 1992 recordings were originally released on Alpha CDCA 943 and the 1993 on Alpha CDCA 957. What we have here is a remastering of 20 anthems on one CD from 34 previously on 2 CDs: ‘Tudor Church Music Volume One’ and ‘Volume Two’, now re-titled ‘Great Tudor Anthems’.
 
I’d begin with Byrd’s Sing joyfully (tr. 10), a title which indicates the essence of an anthem which is a succession of skilfully crafted carillons of imitative entries blended with vigorous projection. Worcester Cathedral Choir here sing it with clarity and an attractive pealing effect. Donald Hunt sensibly varies the dynamics to display the structure, so the opening is slightly softer to enable the second phase ‘Sing loud’ (0:19) to illustrate the words. The third phase ‘Take the song’ (0:32) is of fitting volume for ‘the pleasant harp and the viol’, the fourth more fervent for ‘Blow up the trumpet’ (0:59). And it goes with a bit of a swing but here it does sound a touch precious.
 
Hereford Cathedral Choir, recorded in 2005 (Griffin GCCD 4048 - see review), begins more eagerly but flags latterly. The recording to have as a benchmark is the St Paul’s Choristers (Belart 4501412), the only recording with cornets, sackbuts and viols in accompaniment. For crispness of articulation and grandeur of body this 1970 production is unbeatable, but admittedly for the special occasion and this anthem is for general use too.
 
After this Elizabethan jolly affirmation it would be appropriate to turn to the more spiritual prayer Teach me, O Lord (tr. 7). This has a pristine, chaste manner with a short statement for solo treble, that is a verse section, alternating with a responding statement by full choir. The emphasis is on simplicity and humility. All the same Byrd
crafts intricate cross-rhythms in the full choir passages. The soloist here, Robert Stringer, then Head Chorister of Worcester Cathedral, sings with purity and clarity while Donald Hunt effects a smooth choral response.
 
Geraint Bowen has all the trebles of Hereford Cathedral Choir (GCCD 4048) singing the verse, which makes for less contrast. But his choral sections have more bite, the rhythms being used more expressively for a more earnest, dramatic manner of prayer. He also makes a marked rallentando for the final Amen.
 
A prayer for full chorus throughout, but one whose imitation between and echoing of the vocal parts adds to its disquiet is William Mundy’s O Lord, the maker of all thing (tr. 19). For all the consistent smoothness of style cultivated by Hunt here, his adoption of a fairly swift tempo brings a contrasting urgency, a chilling sotto voce for the repeat of ‘that we in sin fall not on sleep’ (1:07). This is followed by an even more pressing second section, ‘O Father, through thy blessed Son’, before a beautiful Amen whose combination of elaboration and humility encapsulates the piece.
 
I compared the 2001 recording by Gaudium/Mark Levett (Karuna 109). Their slower tempo (3:23 in comparison with Hunt’s 2:35) makes for telling concentration on elements of concern though the presentation is less outwardly varied and dramatic. I like his stronger pointing of the false relation, the Tudor means of affective dissonance, in the Amen between the A flat in the second alto and A natural in the bass part. This is comparatively smoothed over by Hunt at 2:15. Levett’s performance actually times at 4:33 as he incorporates a repeat, only found in some manuscript sources, of the second section.
 
Turning to the much later O Lord, in thy wrath by Orlando Gibbons (tr. 16) it’s striking how much more openly dramatic the expression is, partly through use of a generally higher tessitura in the two treble parts and a more personalized tone, as in the octave leap at ‘Have mercy upon me’ in the first treble (1:19) towards the end of the opening section. Hunt effectively achieves a cowed opening and plaintive tone, a more particular and personal second section, ‘for I am weak’ (1:30), a protesting third section, ‘but Lord, how long wilt thou punish me?’ (2:11) and wearily pleading final section ‘O save me’ (2:38).
 
I prefer this approach to that of Winchester Cathedral Choir/David Hill recorded in 1999 (Hyperion CDA67116). This is firmer in tone, purposeful and protesting from the outset and although the density of Gibbons’ part writing is clearer, a little at odds with the ‘I am weak’ of the second section. Hill goes for an effect of weariness gradually growing from the penultimate section.
 
Hunt’s performance of Gibbons’ Hosanna to the Son of David (tr. 17) is particularly fine. The effect of the clarity of the constant echoing of the parts is that of eager small pockets of fans welcoming Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The second section. ‘Blessed is he’ (0:24) has a smoother quality, like that of a benediction. The third, ‘Blessed be the King’ (0:46) more firmly acknowledges authority. The fourth, ‘Peace in heav’n’ (1:22) is smoothest of all but is swiftly followed (1:33) by the acclamation of ‘and glory in the highest places’ so there’s a feel of a great gathering of energy at this point, fulfilled by the final Hosanna chorus stealing in on the scene from 1:55 and climaxing with the bass entry at 2:17 as a kind of coda.
 
Winchester Cathedral Choir’s performance is that of a denser body of well-wishers. But Worcester Cathedral Choir is preferable for its brighter, purer trebles and clearer vertical sound, even if Winchester’s closing chorus is more exciting.
 
An illuminating feature of the Griffin CD is its provision of another and varied setting of this text by Thomas Weelkes (tr. 3). His crowd seems more highly charged and, though the part-writing here also clarifies particular elements within it, more impressive in its mass and discipline. Weelkes sets a more concentrated text, without Gibbons’ ‘Blessed is he’ and ‘Peace in heaven’ sections, but uses ‘Hosanna’ as a recurring acclamation after his quieter second section, ‘Blessed be the King’ (0:30) before the enthusiastic ‘Thou that sittest in the highest heav’ns’ (0:58), then after this section before the exultant coda (1:38) which is set to the text ‘in excelsis Deo’.
 
Hunt seems to take the opening section to get going but by the time he reaches the second section he combines well the smoothness of trebles in upper tessitura with rhythmic bite in all the parts. His first Hosanna acclamation is stark, his second formal to cast more dramatic light on the riveting closing descents in turn from the two treble parts and finally the tenor.
 
St Paul’s Cathedral Choristers performance (4501412) is mettlesome from the outset with plenty of rhythmic emphasis. It’s enhanced to especially resplendent effect by cornets and sackbuts doubling the voices.
 
I’ll stay with Weelkes for When David heard (tr. 12) which charts David’s reaction to the death of his son Absalom. Hunt’s reflective opening is pierced through with descant cries of ‘Absalom’ and the same technique used to emphasise David going ‘up’ and therefore privately to his chamber. The second part of the anthem, David’s response, is elaborately prepared by the formality of the thrice repeated ‘And thus he said’. When it comes, ‘O my son Absalom’ (1:37) is a statement of growing intensity, finely tiered by Hunt so that it’s only loud the third time with the basses ‘my son’ at 2:04. This is a foretaste of the close which dwells on a son who is no longer.
 
I compared the 1997 recording by The Ionian Singers/Timothy Salter (Usk 1222) whose mixed forces make for more emotive descant effects. But there’s not the subtle contrast of dynamic that Hunt achieves and therefore less contrast of tone and mood. Nor is there his plasticity of phrasing, partly because Salter draws out the expressiveness with a timing of 4:29 against Hunt’s 3:52. Hunt’s progression allows you to experience what’s in effect a sacred madrigal as a story, anguished but of a noble dignity.
 
When David heard is the second text for which this Griffin CD provides another setting, in this case by Thomas Tomkins (tr. 15). This is a more poignant, drawn out lament with Hunt making its pathos apparent from the outset. Four repeats this time of ‘And thus he said’ before a second section (1:17) which settles into plaintive repetitions of ‘Absalom my son’. There are two gradually, yet still surprisingly, reached climactic moments: the trebles reach top G at ‘O my son’ (1:38) and again at ‘Absalom’ (2:35). Hunt is sensitively not markedly loud even here, the second time as if the thought is then gestating to be expressed fully as ‘Would God I had died for thee’ (2:52). The anthem ends with a return to ‘Absalom my son’ but now in the major. The change from minor to major key also occurs in Weelkes’ anthem but with Tomkins the effect is much more becalmed, as if a happy remembrance.
 
I compared the 1989 recording by the Choir of St George’s Chapel Windsor/Christopher Robinson (Hyperion CDA 66345). This has a more purely objective, albeit still flowing approach to the opening and more reflective, yet rather neutral, lament proper. At a slightly faster tempo overall (4:35 against Robinson’s 5:00) Hunt’s opening is both sparer and more urgent while his lament is more intent, concentrated and personal, honouring the tender and human aspects of an anthem less outwardly impressive than Weelkes but more haunting.
 
I’ll stick with Tomkins now for three more anthems from Hunt. First Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom (tr. 14) is a surprisingly satisfying setting of a collect. Heard spoken by a priest you may feel this is all appropriately reverential but this free flowing musical setting, through much internal repetition, experiences the contrite intention of the words. Hunt’s performance has a similar urgency despite the respectful veneer. Notable is the pathos of the sudden, stark line of repeated notes at ‘to have compassion’ at 1:26. False relations, those dissonant clashes which Tudor composers enjoyed, begin to multiply from 4:12 to emphasise the special nature of the trump card played, the worthiness ‘of thy Son Jesus Christ’ before the reinforcement of an especially elaborate Amen.
 
Robinson’s account is slightly slower, 6:21 against Hunt’s 6:14 and therefore smoother. St George’s Chapel Windsor Choir and the effect of the acoustic of All Hallows Hampstead where their recording was made is fuller bodied, so here we have a larger witness. This takes away something of the prayerful fragility which Hunt catches and is inherent in the text. But the greater weight of tone makes in itself for a dolorous beauty. Furthermore the St George’s Choir’s lower parts have a greater presence so Tomkins’ dense texture is more appreciable and even dramatic. Robinson’s Amen, slightly faster than Hunt’s, taking 1:07 rather than 1:12, is more resilient and passionate.
 
O sing unto the Lord (tr. 6) is for seven voice parts and, with one entering after the other at the start, takes a while to get going. In fact, not until the ebullient ‘Let the congregation of saints’ at 0:46 featuring all voices before lightly dividing again from 0:59 as ‘sing praise unto him’ issues forth from the individual voices in turn with rapid overlap. The effect is of pockets of praise uniting in a mass. This becomes headier when the key phrase for the next imitative counterpoint from 1:20 is ‘rejoice in him’. This culminates in an Alleluia chorus from 2:14 which becomes increasingly wild in its fervour to end with exciting descants exchanged between the two treble parts. Hunt articulates all this with lightness yet great clarity and flexibility. I prefer his approach to the slower, more sonorous Robinson, who takes 3:52 to Hunt’s 3:16. Robinson’s high notes echo around splendidly and there are telling emphases in the lower parts too but he lacks Hunt’s rhythmic impetus which makes the anthem more eventful.
 
My beloved spake (tr. 5) is an early example of a verse anthem, that is one which includes sections for solo voices, in this case a quartet of soloists: two trebles, counter-tenor and bass. The personal quality of the text comes across particularly well from 0:39 when ‘Rise up my love’ is illustrated by an ascending motif with the voices echoing one another while ‘and come away’ is a smoothly tripping falling motif. These effects are repeated from 3:19 to end the piece. In the meantime the joy of hearing in spring ‘the singing of birds’ at 1:47 is evocatively caught by the bright, beaming tones of the treble soloists. The full chorus sections which alternate with the soloists’ ones are less effective, seeming a little stiff. Robinson’s recording, this time slightly faster, 4:53 against Hunt’s 5:03, is more assured in these but his greater emphasis on melody and euphony serves the verse sections less well. Hunt has more feel for the music’s projection and pulse.
 
Finally, in my survey of the English pieces on this CD comes O praise God in his holiness (tr.20), an early setting of Psalm 150 attributed to Robert White. Hunt’s forthright, virile and hearty performance marks out the chief characteristics of this piece scored for double choir. Its illustrating ‘the firmament of his power’ from 0:23 gleefully accumulates counterpoint to such an extent that by ‘his excellent greatness’ (1:04) it has become a bit of a gabble. But it then pleasingly cools for echo and antiphonal effects at ‘Praise him in the sound of the trumpet’ before a fitting blaze of acclamation at ‘Let everything that hath breath’ (2:24). Finest of all is an Amen (2:37) of sonorous, brilliant homage.
 
Half way between English and Latin anthems comes Weelkes’ Gloria in excelsis Deo (tr. 13). That title is the full Latin text which wraps around the English one ‘Sing, my soul, to God thy Lord’. It’s a bright, direct piece packed with descants in the two treble parts. This anthem really seems to need a bigger choir than Hunt’s for full effect, or perhaps to ring the changes with a fresh supply of voices, as the English section begins rather raggedly. But Weelkes’ exotic key change at ‘Crave thy God to tune thy heart’ (1:31) is fully realized, as are the following descants at ‘thy highest part’ from 1:35. A suitably dramatic Amen rounds things off.
 
The Ionian Singers recording (Usk 1222) is less enlightening. It’s slower, 3:56 against Worcester’s 3:14, and tamer. The mixed voices make for smoother polyphony but a disappointing lack of dramatic attack.
 
Now to the Latin anthems on this Griffin CD. Laudibus in sanctis (tr. 1) was the piece chosen to open Byrd’s 1591 publication Cantiones sacrae. It’s a setting of Psalm 150 in Latin verse, in sonnet form. Hunt starts relatively calmly but soon achieves a lusty contrast at ‘Firmamenta sonent’, ‘The heavens are telling’(0:18) while the imitation between the five vocal parts at ‘saepe sonate manus’, ,‘Tell out in song His wonders’, (0:18) rings out well. The second part of the piece, beginning at ‘Magnificum Domini’ (1:01) has a swing of madrigalian lightness and pleasingly piping trebles, always in two groups. There’s a robust bass entry at ‘Laude Dei’, ‘Laud and honour’, (1:25) and similarly from all the parts later. In between a creamy ‘Alta sacrii’ (1:47) depicting the long drawn aisles through which lofty organs ring. This is exciting to sing and to hear.
 
The third part of the anthem, beginning at ‘Hunc arguta canant’ (2:16) is light sprung with dancing imitation to be enjoyed at ‘Hunc agili laudet’ (2:28) and ‘laeta chorea pede’ (2:38), most appropriately as these mean ‘And lustily dancing, let the festal rout give praise’. Then there’s some contrast between ‘cymbala laudes’ (3:05), the loud cymbals and ‘cymbala dulce sona’ (3:14), the delicate soft ones. The closing 16th century version of the Hallelujah chorus from 4:04 Hunt begins on a light peal before showing some sinew for the regal broadening out at ‘tempus in omne Deo’ (4:33). A performance of fine rhythmic verve and clear contrast though it might benefit from a fuller sonority at times.
 
This view is reinforced by comparison with the recording published in 1983 by Winchester Cathedral Choir/Martin Neary (ASV Gaudeamus CDGAU 119). Here the trebles are brighter, there’s more attack and the pervasive tone is firmer, smoother and of fuller body, partly owing to a closer recording. There’s more of a relish of the sheer virtuosity of the piece and this Hallelujah chorus more effectively grows in intensity to the ‘tempus in omne Deo’ climax. There’s nothing in it with regard to timing, Neary being just 4 seconds faster. But from the opening Hunt’s trebles are noticeably thinner in tone. Nevertheless, the more carefree dancing quality and fervour of his performance offers some compensation.
 
Byrd’s Justorum animae (tr. 2) flows much more steadily and soothingly. A soft start from Hunt yet with strength quietly emanating from the second treble part, lingering descents through the vocal parts at ‘insipientium’ from 1:21 calmly rejecting the doubts of the unwise about the after-life. A smooth plane of white tone is reached at ‘illi autem sunt’ (1:54) as a preparation for the closing blessing of the lambent flowing entries in the parts in turn of ‘in pace’ from 2:18 affirming that the souls of the righteous of the title are at peace. There’s no more beautiful setting of this text, nor will you find a more beautifully sung performance than Hunt’s. It’s moving for its candour, open treble tone and humility of textual explication. It has just the right weight, contemplative measure yet still flow. The faster Hereford Cathedral Choir account (GCCD 4048), 2:49 against Worcester’s 3:13, is ethereal but doesn’t have Hunt’s sense of a developing message. Their ‘insipientium’ is more taunting, ‘illi autem’ less calm, their ‘in pace’s less gentle and the whole therefore lacks Hunt’s aura of repose.
 
Hunt’s recording of Byrd’s Cantate Domino (tr. 8) was the first ever made. This motet takes a while to get going as the six voice parts enter in turn. Only in the quick fire imitation at ‘laus ejus’, ‘his praise’ (0:34) does the setting erupt. Then the time signature changes from 2/2 to 3/2. A pacier, tripping rhythm is injected for ‘Laetetur Israel’, ‘Let Israel rejoice’ at 1:03 before a broadening out, back to 2/2, for ‘et filiae Sion exultent’, ‘and let the children of Sion be joyful’ which makes a fitting preparation for the proudly imitative affirmation of the close ‘in rege suo’, ‘in their king’.
 
In the motet’s only other recording, from 1996, The Sarum Consort (ASV Quicksilva CDQS 6211) adopt a heartier, swinging style from the outset which proves less expressive than Hunt’s more chaste manner in clarifying Byrd’s changes of rhythm and textual emphasis.
 
No shortage of recordings of Ave verum corpus (tr. 9), of which over 60 have been made. Might this suggest as the most recorded it’s the greatest of all Tudor anthems? Technically it’s easier than many because the Latin verse is matched by music of similarly short-spanned, carefully shaped, but never static, phrases. Expressively and emotionally it’s a different matter because Byrd’s setting is a dramatic realization of a text which is a microcosm of Christianity and the hope of redemption. Hunt gives a fine performance which has momentum as well as intense contemplation. The cry ‘O Jesu’ (1:51) shines out of the refrain whose following ‘miserere mei’, ‘have mercy on me’ is earnest, the personal impact on the individual being emphasised by the repeat of the refrain. Like the work this performance has feeling as well as beauty of design.
 
Hereford Cathedral Choir’s account (GCCD 4048) is slower, 4:28 against Worcester’s 3:55, which makes it more objective, despite being devotional and quite passionate in the refrain. It doesn’t have Hunt’s internal growth, the way the phrases accumulate and relate to each other which brings the witness of the text to life.
 
The first of Tallis’s settings of Salvator mundi (tr. 11) is appreciably finely crafted. For all its clean line and prayerful nature, giving a slightly austere impression, it also strongly reflects the personal nature of the plea of the text, which is well brought out in Hunt’s intent performance. So the emphasis falls on the melismata at ‘salva’, ‘save us’ and the unusually stark and firm five repeated notes at ‘auxiliare’, ‘help us’, especially on their repetition at higher pitch in the treble at 1:30. The treble line dominates with the other parts something of a maze of underpinning tracery until a prominent first alto line at the end.
 
The lower parts are more in evidence in the one voice to a part performance recorded in 2003 by the Dunedin Consort (Delphian DCD 34008). Paradoxically the effect of this is to create both more serenity and more urgency when the density of the music is clearer.
 
Taverner’s Dum transisset sabbatum (tr. 4) is the earliest piece in this Griffin anthology. It has plainsong verses followed by choruses, especially the opening one, of elaborate polyphony of beautifully arching lines with descant trebles. The opening chorus is brightly and ecstatically realized here, the second one, ‘ut venientes ungerent Jesum’, ‘that they might come and anoint Jesus’ (1:41) has a warmth and inevitability about the build up of the four voice parts in turn. The following Alleluia chorus (2:14) is emphatic yet perhaps on the aggressive side of fervour.
 
I compared the performance recorded in 1988 by The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (Helios CDH 55054). This uses a smaller, mixed choir and is more measured, 6:42 against Hunt’s 6:01. The soprano top line is cleaner and more sonorous but not so creamy in the opening chorus. The Alleluias are broader and more reflective.
 
Blitheman’s In pace (tr. 18) has choruses followed by plainsong. The opening chorus to the title words ‘In peace’ is a serene setting of a motif gently falling in the four voice parts in turn. The second chorus (1:05) is taken by Hunt more urgently, to match its more analytic text and busier counterpoint, yet its goal, too, is a falling motif from 1:51 at ‘dormitationem’, ‘slumber’. The third chorus (2:39), a Gloria, Hunt performs as a lively affirmation, making for a complete contrast when the opening ‘In pace’ chorus returns.
 
Notes on the music by Donald Hunt and texts and translations are included in the booklet, except not for the second and third plainsong verses of Dum transisset sabbatum. The term ‘Tudor’, as Hunt points out, is loosely used. What we get is a fair representation from the early mid 16th to early 17th century. Some great anthems, yes, and others that at least offer interesting insight into composers’ responses to sacred texts.
 
The choir is recorded fairly, but not unnaturally, close so the sound is immediate and the rounded acoustic appreciable. The remastering sounds to me a little brighter, airier and with the choir more spread than the original, but less intimate. While some, as I have indicated, are more successful than others, these are all hearteningly committed performances. What also comes across powerfully is a sense of tradition because of the location, forces and manner of performance.
 
 
Michael Greenhalgh
 



 


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