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Four Gentlemen of The Chapel Royal
Thomas TALLIS (1505-1585)
Salvator Mundi
[2.36]; O Sacrum Convivium [3.11]; Derelinquit impius [3.18]; When shall my sorrowful sighing slake? [3.39]; In Nomine No. 2 [1.45]; Suscipe quaeso [7.02]
William BYRD (1543- 1623)
Plorans ploravit
[4.36]; In Nomine No. 3 a 5 [2.53]; Fantasia No. 1 a 6 [3.02]; This Sweet and Merry Month of May [2.26]; Praise our Lord [2.36]
Christopher TYE (1505-1572)
Rubum Quem
[1.15]; In Nomine - Beleeve me [2.50];
In Nomine ‘Re la re’ 1.14]; I lift my heart [3.24]; In Nomine ‘Rounde’ [2.21]; In Nomine ‘Saye So’ [1.10]
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656)
Oyez! Has any found a lad
[1.45]; Pavan a 6 [3.35] Galliard a 6 [1.51]; Turn unto the Lord [2.22]; In Nomine No 1 [2.18]; Woe is me [3.29]
Clare Wilkinson (mezzo); Rose Consort of Viols
rec. Forde Abbey, Dorset, 23-25 November 2006
DEUX-ELLES DXL1129 [70.00]
Experience Classicsonline

If you say that you are going to attend worship in the Chapel Royal nowadays you will probably go, as I do whenever I’m in London on a Sunday, to the magical little church at St. James’s Palace otherwise known as the Queen’s Chapel of St. James built about 1650. The Chapel has always employed the finest church musicians who worked mainly at Greenwich under the Tudors and at Whitehall under the Stuarts, being moved in 1702 by Queen Anne to its present site. Among the best known musicians employed were not only the four represented on this CD but also Orlando Gibbons and Henry Purcell. The services even now are of the Cathedral type and the choristers all have their own livery of Gold and Scarlet State Coats, still tailored according to the Royal Warrant of 1681. The Chapel is intimate; it has a gallery and room for only a dozen singers. The acoustic is rewarding but not excessive. To be a musician at the Chapel was a top job and it is still extremely desirable.
 
On this recording we have anthems and motets written by Chapel Royal composers. These pieces, if performed as part of the liturgy, would have been for voices a capella. But if aired domestically, apparently they may well have been performed as here by one voice, a top part, with a consort of viols; so says John Bryan in his excellent and extensive booklet notes. This is quite right but the effect is, having heard these kinds of performances many times before, curious. In the polyphonic pieces like Tallis’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ the consequent emphasis falls mainly on the ‘tune’ with accompaniment. Yet pieces like this were written for four equal parts each texted. For this reason I find the approach here difficult to adjust to. After the Reformation the emphasis gradually fell to a more homophonic music in which the top part did indeed carry more of the weight and main melody. Pieces like Tallis’s ‘When shall my sorrowful sighing slake’ demonstrate this and work much better.
 
John Bryan also reminds us however that performing these motets for a soprano (treble) voice with viols led to the popularity of the Consort Song especially propagated by William Byrd. In songs like Byrd’s ‘Ye Sacred Muses’ and ‘O Lord how vain’ for example, the top part is not broken up with more than brief rests for breaths - the line is continuous. In these pieces as performed here, the line and therefore the text, is broken. This involves a rest for up to eight beats or more to permit a more cogent contribution as a part of the overall polyphonic web. Neither do the secular pieces come out of it too well. Listen to Tomkins’ ‘Oyez! Has any found a lad’ and especially Byrd’s madrigal ‘This Sweet and Merry Month’ to see what I mean. The top [texted] part all too often sings a fragmentary line picked up in another part leading to another. This delivers a very disconnected effect. Surely some pieces do not work in this context. The track ‘This Sweet and Merry Month’ seems to suffer at one point from a particularly bad edit.
 
We also know that some pieces could be played by viols alone. Tallis’s ‘O Sacrum Convivium’ is offered as an example. The Rose Consort, one of our top viol consorts, is also in expressive and elegant form in the ‘In Nomines’ - a standard almost didactic work based on a plainsong as found in Taverner’s Missa ‘Gloria Tibi Trinitas’ - and in the dances. This is gorgeous chamber music ‘a pill to purge melancholy’ as we are often informed.
 
To compare the styles of these composers it is interesting to put side-by-side Tye’s ‘Christ Rising’, one of his most performed anthems, and Tallis’s incredibly emotionally expressive ‘When shall my sorrowful sighing slack’. Tallis says an awful lot with few notes while Tye struggles to find depth and feeling. John Bryan quotes, aptly I think in this context, Queen Elizabeth herself, who, having heard Tye play the organ at the Chapel Royal: his music “contained much musick, but little to delight the ear’. Tye can seem in his early pieces like the ‘In Nomines’ rather academic and earnest. This is a criticism that does not apply to his later post-reformation anthems ‘I lift my heart to thee’ or the better known ‘Praise the Lord all ye people’ (not recorded here)
 
Tomkins is also able to tap into a powerful emotional strain. For me a highlight of this CD is his ‘Woe is me’. Its dissonant opening bars are memorable and quite remarkable. In happy contrast his Pavan and Galliard are dance-like and tuneful.
 
Byrd is all of these things. His ‘Plorans ploravit’ is a very fine work summing up his own religious frustrations ‘When shall the heart find quiet rest/ How long shall I Lament’.
 
Clare Wilkinson is an expressive singer who varies dynamics subtly within the lines and through the text. Her diction is excellent although texts are supplied. In the English pieces she attempts an Elizabethan dialect which is probably successful although I have mixed feelings about its value. Does she sing the Latin pieces with Elizabethan pronunciation?
 
As a teacher and a performer myself I am sure that this disc has its place. It can be used to make a comparison between choral performances of 16th century English polyphony which are readily available on CD and speculative domestic performances by composers so very attached to the needs and desires of the Elizabethan court.
 
Gary Higginson
 

 


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