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]
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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