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The Oxford Psalms
William LAWES (1602-1645)
The Lamentation: O Lord, in thee is all my trust [05:17]
Psalm LI/2: Cast me not, Lord [05:47]
Matthew LOCKE (c.1623-1677)
In the beginning, O Lord [02:29]
Jeremiah CLARKE (c1674-1707)
Blest be those sweet Regions [04:25]
anon
Miserere [01:47]
William LAWES
Psalm XVIII/1: O God my strength and fortitude [05:48]
Psalm VI: Lord, in thy wrath [05:43]
John BLOW (1648-1708)
As on Euphrates' shady banks [04:57]
anon/Christopher SIMPSON (c.1605/6-1669), arr K-M Ng
A Ground for ye Harpsicord [03:42]
William CHILD (1606/7-1697)
The First Set of Psalmes of III Voyces (extr) [06:56]
Psalm II: Why doth the Heathen so furiously rage
Psalm X: Why standest thou for far off
Psalm XI: In the Lord I put my trust
Psalm IX: I Will give thanks unto Thee
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Since God so tender
Frances WITHY (c.1645-1727)
Divisions in F [05:41]
George JEFFREYS (c.1610-1685)
Praise the Lord, O my soule [03:57]
Henry PURCELL
Blessed is he that considereth the poor [05:34]
Albertus BRYNE (c.1621-1668)
Voluntary [01:58]
Matthew LOCKE
Let God arise [01:25]
William LAWES
The humble suite of a sinner: O Lord, of whom I do depend [06:54]
Gloria Patri et Filio [02:43]
Charivari Agréable (Rodrigo Del Pozo, Simon Beston (tenor), Nicholas Perfect (bass), Susanne Heinrich (bass viol, consort bass), Richard Sweeney (theorbo), Kah-Ming Ng (harpsichord, organ))/Kah-Ming Ng
rec. 22–24 August 2006, St Andrew's Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire UK. DDD
SIGNUM RECORDS SGCD093 [78:28]

 


The ensemble Charivari Agréable is one of many groups in the early music scene but it stands out from the crowd. A magazine labelled it "one of the most original and versatile groups on the Early Music scene today". This disc testifies to that once more. It pays attention to an aspect of English music of the 17th century which has been almost completely overlooked. Its importance is twofold: firstly it presents religious repertoire written for domestic use, whereas most recordings concentrate on music which was to  be performed in cathedrals or at court. Secondly it shows that the Italian style made an earlier entrance in England than many think.

The Book of Psalms has always played an important role in the Christian Church. Whereas in the Middle Ages non-biblical texts were frequently used in the liturgy it was the Reformation which restored the predominance of the Psalms. As the Reformers believed that not only professional singers should sing in church but also the congregation, poets and composers collaborated in creating metrical psalms in the vernacular. These could be sung by common believers. The best-known example is the Huguenot Psalter which came into existence in the late 16th century.

In England several collections of metrical Psalms were published from the end of the 16th century onwards. The present disc contains a number of compositions on Psalm texts, some of which are also metrical. The title is explained by Kah-Ming Ng in the booklet: "Most of the composers have some connection with Oxford, be it academic, professional, or, more tenuously, fraternal." It focuses on "sacred songs and non-liturgical anthems for domestic consumption, 'fitt for private Chappels or other private meetings', to cite a rubric from William Child's only publication 'The First Set of Psalmes of III Voyces' (1639)". Religious music specifically written for domestic use is a phenomenon which wasn't restricted to England: in Germany a large amount of this kind of music was written, in particular under the influence of Pietism.

As far as the repertoire on this disc is concerned, the interesting thing is that here we find early influences of the modern Italian style which were largely absent in repertoire written for cathedrals or in secular music. Matthew Locke wasn't the only one who had a rather negative view on Italian - or any non-English - music as this quotation shows: "I never yet saw any foreign composition worthy an English man's transcribing." Therefore it is quite remarkable that William Child, one of the English composers of the 17th century who is now paid little attention, wrote that his psalms were "newly composed after the Italian way". And the pieces performed here show that he mastered that style quite well. It is a shame that only a small proportion of his collection is performed here. But the rest of the disc is equally interesting, for instance the compositions of William Lawes. They come from his collection 'Psalmes for 1, 2 and 3 partes, to the comon tunes'. The reference to "common tunes" has given rise to the suggestion that these psalms could have been sung in church, but there is no firm evidence to support this. The fact is that alongside free composed passages for solo voices Lawes also gives a simple melody, which seems meant to be sung by a congregation, and is performed here with the three voices singing unisono.

The Italian influence, which even appears in Locke's music, is reflected in three things: firstly the three-part texture, in the way of the Italian trio-sonata, which results in settings for three voices, mostly alto, tenor and bass; secondly the addition of a basso continuo part; and thirdly the declamatory character of the vocal parts. Of course, Henry Purcell is the best-known representative of the true baroque style in England in the 17th century. He composed a number of devotional songs, two of which are recorded here. Neither these nor the piece by the hardly known George Jeffreys set metrical texts.

The latest piece on this disc is by Jeremiah Clarke, who was a highly gifted composer who could have had a great career if he hadn't had a melancholic nature which finally led him to commit suicide. His hymn 'Blest be those sweet Regions' was written as he was sworn in – together with William Croft – as Gentleman-Extraordinary of the Chapel Royal. This hymn "is a veritable cantata in miniature, featuring an aria-like refrain, around which are woven arioso passages, presaging the arrival of Handel's Italianate idiom".

Listening to the programme on this disc one gets a fairly good impression of how the Italian style gradually gained ground in a part of composing and music-making which took place more or less out of the limelight, and as a result is largely overlooked in our own time. It is the great virtue of this recording that this chapter in English music history is saved from oblivion. I am happy to add that the performers give splendid interpretations of this repertoire. There were times when I would have liked a little less vibrato, in particular from Simon Beston, but on the whole I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of both singers and players. In the unisono passages the three voices blend very well. All singers deliver the texts in true declamatory style, without exaggeration. They are well aware of the fact that this music was written for domestic use, which makes a display of virtuosity inappropriate. It was a good decision to use a tenor for the upper (alto) part, and Rodrigo Del Pozo has exactly the right type of voice for this.

Various instrumental items are interspersed amongst the rest. Again they are rather uncommon pieces, performed here with imagination by the instrumentalists of the ensemble.

I strongly recommend this disc, which is of far more than historical importance; it also has great musical value. I hope that this area of repertoire is going to be explored more extensively in the near future.

Johan van Veen

 


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