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I heard a voice - The Music of the Golden Age
Thomas WEELKES (1576-1623)
Alleluia, I heard a voice [3:00]
When David heard [4:43]
Most mighty and all-knowing Lord [4:37]
Hosanna to the Son of David [2:03]
In Nomine a 4 [1:56]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)
Hosanna to the Son of David [3:09]
O Lord, in they wrath [3:33]
This is the record of John [4:08]
O clap your hands [5:42]
In Nomine a 4 [2:51]
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656)
O praise the Lord [4:08]
When David heard [5:01]
Fantasy a 6 [4:32]
Rejoice, rejoice and singe [6:50]
O sing unto the Lord [3:38]
Fretwork; Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury
rec. Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, 21-24 April 2007
EMI CLASSICS 3944302 [59:56]

 

Experience Classicsonline

 

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. 

The 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 plainchant. 

Orlando 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. 

The 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.

Miguel Muelle


 




 


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