welcome CD first appeared in the early 1990s on CDA66477
as part of Hyperion’s ‘English Orpheus’ series.
It celebrates the choral writing of one of the last generation
to write in the English tradition established by Taverner and
his contemporaries almost 150 years before Weelkes died. It
does so without fuss; yet Winchester Cathedral Choir
presents singing that’s direct and
full of impact.
twenty or so years into Elizabeth’s reign, Weelkes lived, studied and/or worked at Winchester, Oxford, Chichester - where he
seems to have led something of a dissolute life at times - and
perhaps London. He did write
some instrumental music - for consorts … it’s mostly rather
dour. But Weelkes is best known for his focused and concentrated
choral music; and best loved for his anthems. Here we have a
dozen or so of these - carefully and enthusiastically performed.
There are also three organ solos interspersed with the vocal
works. These are played with a happy, light and equally meticulous
touch by Timothy Byram-Wigfield, who is now at St
Weelkes was at his height, he was working in a very mature tradition.
It was one which offered him a robust, distinct and accepted
body of forms on which to build music for Evensong and Compline
Laboravi in gemitu
meo is the only piece here that can be precisely dated.
It was probably the six-part ‘test’ piece submitted by Weelkes
for his Bachelor of Arts at Oxford; that was awarded in 1602.
The other music here is all likely to have been written before
Weelkes’ apparent ‘decline’ in his later years. It is all one
of two types: the first comprises ‘full’ settings; these were
performed either by the entire choir, or alternatim between
the Decani and Cantoris facing one another. The second type
was verse settings for up to six soloists - usually - accompanied
by organ (later viol). There were still sections of full writing
between the solo verses.
may not immediately be as obvious or clear-cut to the listener.
Weelkes employed a sufficiently rich wealth of compositional
techniques for the music sung here to sound fresh, and not to
be restricted by any staid formula. The ‘full’ anthems are often
divided into six parts with both trebles and bases doubling
to give an airy feel to the music. This can be heard in the
Gloria in excelsis Deo, Hosanna to the Son of David
and Alleluia! I heard a voice - the latter actually in
five parts - for instance.
It’s evident that
Weelkes expected (and maybe got?) a pretty high standard of
performance from his singers. The light and sinuous style of
some of the music is influenced by Italian madrigalian techniques.
There is some ornamentation and sense of improvisation in the
instrumental pieces as well. Colour, spirit, consistency and
real inventiveness characterise this music. The performers on
this CD have internalised these qualities and convey them all
So this is hardly
dense, sombre or overly puritan music. It has life, spring and
restraint. Indeed here some of the composer’s best anthems have
been particularly sensitively recorded. Such an approach has
the tendency to draw the listener into its rather delicate world.
On the whole, the choir - successors to Weelkes’ own choir 500
years ago! - sings well and convincingly. That said, some of
the tenor soloists’ voices - drawn from the choir, actually
- stand out by being a little idiosyncratic.
This is a CD which
is unlikely to fail to please. It’s stirring and striking music
performed with genuine conviction and technical competence consistently
matched by a spirited style from experienced and insightful