Only a short while ago I was singing the praises of the Brabant
Ensemble’s four previous excursions for Hyperion: Crecquillon
Missa Mort m’a privé (CDA67596 – see review);
Gombert Tribulatio et angustia (CDA67614 – see review); Manchicourt Missa Cuidez vous que Dieu (CDA67604
– see review)
and Morales Magnificat, Motets & Lamentations (CDA67694
– see review). Now they have turned their attention away from continental
Europe to sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century
England and the collection of music for the chapel of Chirk Castle where, as the Hyperion
notes put it, the flame of Elizabethan music was kept burning
into the Jacobean era and beyond.
The wealthy Myddleton family bought the castle
in 1595, but it was not until 1630 that Sir Thomas Myddleton
junior rebuilt the chapel and inaugurated choral services there.
Most of the music would have been collected and performed there
until the Civil War, under the direction of William Deane, whose
own music features on the new recording, and, briefly, again
after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.
The reason why I am somewhat less impressed by
the Brabant Ensemble’s performances on the new CD than previously
are apparent from the two opening tracks, Mundy’s settings of
the two Mattins canticles, Te Deum and Benedictus,
both annotated as ‘for trebles’: with dominant high parts.
Beautifully sung as they are, you wouldn’t have a clue what
the words were unless you consulted the texts in the booklet
or, like me, had the words deeply etched into your unconscious.
These Mundy canticles by an important, if neglected
Tudor composer, are among the items preserved uniquely in the
Chirk collection. None of them are undiscovered masterpieces,
but it is good to hear them in the company of the more familiar
pieces – none of which has, in any case, been over-recorded.
Nothing here is unattractive, though the setting of the Litany
by (William?) Parsons on track 14 is chiefly of historical interest.
It’s difficult for any composer to sex up the Litany – even
Tallis’s setting is included in Signum’s Complete Works
only as an appendix to Volume 9.
Of the more familiar works on the new CD, Tallis’s
setting of the Easter anthem Christ rising again (tr.5)
is the best known. These words have been prescribed to be said
or sung at Easter Mattins since Cranmer’s first Prayer Book
of 1549. If the translation seems unfamiliar, that’s because
Tallis set the translation prescribed in 1549 and again in the
Elizabethan Prayer Book of 1559, from the Great Bible; the more
familiar words of the King James version were not substituted
until 1662. It certainly stands out from the other works on
The anthem receives a sonorous performance from
the Brabant Ensemble but the words are again indistinct and
I thought the singing a little dutiful, somewhat lacking in
the joy which should surely accompany such hopeful words, though
they make the final repeated Alleluia ring well enough.
Chapelle du Roi, directed by Alistair Dixon take
this anthem at a slightly faster pace and, while their diction
is not quite as clear as it might be, and they can’t exactly
be described as exuberant, they make it much more joyous than
the Brabant Singers. Dixon also has the advantage
of placing the music in context at the commencement of Easter
Mattins, followed by the Preces, Venite, Te
Deum, Benedictus, Responses and Collects for the
day on Volume 6 of the Complete Works of Tallis (Music for
a Reformed Church, Signum SIGCD022, tracks 1-6). This performance
of Christ rising, without the other Easter items, also
appears on a 2-CD budget-price distillation of the Signum complete
edition (Portrait PCL2101 – see review).
Best of all in this anthem is the performance by
The Tallis Scholars – though not renowned for breakneck tempi,
they’re just four seconds faster than Chapelle du Roi and 24
seconds faster than the Brabant Ensemble, which, together with
the clearer diction, makes all the difference. The Tallis
Scholars sing Thomas Tallis, a bargain 2-for-1 set on Gimell
CDGIM203 and an essential purchase even if you have the complete
With all our hearts, more familiar as Salvator
mundi, of which the English text is a contrafactum, (Hyperion
tr.10) also receives a slightly more sprightly performance from
Chapelle du Roi (Volume 8, SIGCD036, Lamentations and Contrafacta,
tr.7). Jeremy Summerly with the Oxford Camerata, on the other
hand, takes it much more sedately, not at all to its advantage.
Summerly’s tempo would have been appropriate for the Latin words
to which it was originally set, though Chapelle du Roi show
how well a fairly fast tempo also suits those words on Volume
7 (SIGCD029 – Music for Queen Elizabeth). Indeed, the
languorous performances of the three English pieces with which
this Naxos recording concludes constitute the least recommendable
aspect of an otherwise attractive and generously filled CD (Spem
in alium and Missa Salve intemerata, Naxos 8.557770).
That complete Tallis on nine volumes is a wonderful
achievement – you can purchase the volumes separately or obtain
the whole set in a Brilliant Box – but it doesn’t contain Not
everyone that saith, track 12 of the new CD, another work
unique to Chirk. Apart from the problem with unclear diction,
this attractive little discovery (just two and a half minutes
long) receives a first-rate performance here.
The latest piece on this CD, by the compiler of
the Chirk collection, William Deane’s O Lord, thou hast dealt
graciously (tr.9), another work contained solely in this
collection, dates from the period immediately before the organs,
and with them Tudor polyphonic music, were silenced under the
Commonwealth. It’s an attractive work, which could easily be
mistaken for the work of a composer of fifty or more years earlier.
It’s hardly distinctive, composed in a fairly plain style, though
it has its more decorative moments, which bring the music and
the performance to life.
The performances throughout are sonorous and the
size of the ensemble is similar to that which their director,
Stephen Rice, thinks would have performed the music in the 1630s.
The alto line is taken exclusively by women’s voices rather
than counter tenors; this didn’t trouble me, but the problems
of diction to which I have referred detracted somewhat from
my enjoyment of an otherwise excellent CD. You may well find
this less of a problem than I did.
The notes in the booklet are up to Hyperion’s usual
high standard and attractively illustrated, with a facsimile
of the opening work, Mundy’s Te Deum, on the cover.
It was a nice touch to add a Welsh translation for a recording
made in the Welsh borderland.
The recording, made in Merton College Chapel, Oxford, is good but slightly
less focused than the recordings which Gimell have made with
The Tallis Scholars in the same location. Incidentally, Peter
Phillips, director of the Tallis Scholars, has recently taken
over the musical direction at Merton and Steve Smith of Gimell
has made a number of recordings of Evensong there, available
as free podcasts from the college
This wouldn’t be my ideal recommendation for someone
coming fresh to the music of Tallis, Byrd and Mundy. The Tallis
Scholar’s 2-CD set of their namesake (see above) and their equally
recommendable Tallis Scholars Sing William Byrd (CDGIM208
– see review)
would serve that purpose better. Then there are their two 2-CD
sets of early and late Tudor music, which I praised last year
(CDGIM209 and CDGIM210 – see review).
For Mundy, the budget-price Hyperion Helios collection on CDH55086,
or Mary & Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey (CDA67704
– see review)
will do very nicely.
The downloads of the Signum complete Tallis in
two instalments are mentioned in glowing terms in my November
2008 Download Roundup and my December
After all these, the new Hyperion CD could be an
excellent next stop.