This CD presents
the music of three composers, spanning roughly the same time
period. The “Golden Age” which brought us Shakespeare, Donne,
and Jonson was well under way, already turning into sunset hues.
This more appropriately presents examples of “the glorious Indian
summer of the Golden Age of English (and Welsh in Tompkins’s
case) music”, as Jeremy Summerly writes in the liner-notes.
Right from the beginning,
one is aware of stepping into a centuries-old tradition of music
making. The Chapel at King’s College has resonated with these
anthems for almost four hundred years, and the sound of the
sixteen men and boys who make up the current Choir under Stephen
Cleobury is rich and full. One of the aspects of this recording
that makes it stand out from others is the choice to double
many of the vocal lines which are usually sung a cappella
with organ and viols. Another feature is the well-chosen
instrumental pieces for viols alone; these cleanse the palate,
as it were, between each composer’s choral sound-world.
CD begins with Weelkes’s “Alleluia, I heard a voice”, which
bursts forth in glorious polyphony, in waves of allelulias
that seem to smash joyfully against St. John’s narrative. “When
David heard” brings a tenebrous stillness, a darkness of chromatic
chords and dissonances that reflect the prophet’s grief and
distress at hearing of his son Absalon’s death, resolving
with a beauty that is sad but almost wistful, “would God I
had died for thee, o Absalon, my son!” The alto David Allsopp
gives an exemplary performance of consort song in “Most Mighty
and All-Knowing Lord”. “Hosanna to the Son of David”, like
his “Alleluia…” is another solid, almost rollicking anthem.
Weelkes’s "In Nomine a 4” is a satisfying example of
this wonderful instrumental genre that has its roots in choral
Gibbons was himself a chorister at King’s College. I can’t
help but reflect that the walls of the Chapel have not only
carried his music through the centuries but his own voice
has reverberated in its vaults and spaces. This section begins
with his version of “Hosanna to the Son of David”, also scored
for six voices, but brighter and, to me, more reverent in
mood than the one by Weelkes. In sharp contrast is the repentant
“O Lord, in thy wrath”, performed a cappella and so
clearly that one hears every plaintive word, and one appreciates
more acutely Gibbons’ ability to create the appropriate musical
setting for the text. “This is the record of John”, from
the first chapter of the Gospel of John. It contains all the
elements that make this CD special: perfect balance between
the viols, soloist and choir, and text and music, all forming
a cohesive and illuminating “reading”. The final choral piece
by Gibbons is the ebullient setting of Psalm 47, “O clap your
hands”, where Mr. Cleobury and his singers convey with joy
the celebratory nature of the text. The Gibbons section also
ends with "In Nomine a 4”. Again I find his style lighter
and more refined than Weelkes’. I compared this version played
by Fretwork with the same piece played by the Rose Consort
of Viols in Naxos 8.550603, “Orlando
Gibbons: Consort and Keyboard Music, Songs and Anthems”. The
Rose Consort take it much slower and the instruments seem
to play independent of each other, never attaining the unity
and balance achieved here by Fretwork.
last composer is Thomas Tomkins. “O praise the Lord”, a rhythmic
and insistent work, has the choir creating a very exciting
circular layering of sound, but, perhaps due more to the composer’s
somewhat insistent rhythmic structure than the singing, the
text becomes a bit hard to understand. This steady pattern,
however, is immediately contrasted by Tomkins’ version of
“When David heard”. We hear a profound and sensitive account
of a father’s grief, sung with intensity and pathos. The
“Fantasy a 6” is beautifully played by Fretwork, who also
performed many of Tomkins’ pieces in their 2003 Harmonia Mundi
CD “Above the Starrs” along with Emma Kirkby and others.
“Rejoice, rejoice and singe” and the last track, “O sing unto
the Lord” are both solid examples of Tomkins’ satisfying polyphony,
with some exciting dissonances and false trails in the latter.
This is a wonderful
CD for any fan of English music of the Tudor and Stuart period.
The program is well laid out, with different composers’ takes
on the same text and parallel choral and instrumental selections.
The recording is impeccable and puts the listener right inside
the Chapel of King’s College, but with the added and unusual
pleasure of Fretwork in the house. All the texts are included,
and Jeremy Summerly’s notes are informative and concise.