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Music from the Chirk Castle Part-Books
William Mundy (c.1529-1591)
Te Deum ‘for trebles’ ‘We praise thee, O God’ [
8:03]; Benedictus ‘for trebles’ ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel’ [7:50
William Byrd (1539/40-1623)
O God give ear and do apply [3:27
Robert Parsons (c.1530-1570)
Deliver me from mine enemies [2:49
Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)
Christ rising again [
Edmund Hooper (c.1553-1621)
Behold it is Christ [
Christopher Tye (c.1505-before 15 March 1573)
Blessed are all they that fear the Lord [
Attrib. Robert Parsons
Burial Service ‘I am the resurrection and the life saith the Lord’ [
William Deane (?1575-c.1638)
O Lord, thou hast dealt graciously  [
Thomas Tallis
With all our hearts and mouths [
Thomas Caustun (c.1522-1569)
Yield unto God the mighty Lord [
Thomas Tallis
Not every one that saith unto me [0:52] 
John Sheppard (c.1515-1558)
Submit yourselves one to another [
William (?) Parsons (fl.1545-1563)
The Litany ‘for trebles’ ‘O God the Father of heav’n’ [
John Sheppard
O God be merciful unto us, and bless us [
William Deane
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [1:37
The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford, 5-7 July 2008. DDD
Booklet with notes and texts
HYPERION CDA67695 [71:04] 


Experience Classicsonline

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 CD. 

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 Signum set. 

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 website. 

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 2008 Roundup. 

After all these, the new Hyperion CD could be an excellent next stop.

Brian Wilson


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