As I write (August 2009) we seem to be fairly swept along by
Henry VIII mania. We mark the 500th
his accession with television documentaries, CDs and new books,
probably by David Starkey. Only a few weeks ago I attended the
Rick Wakeman ‘Six Wives of Henry VIII’ performance
at an excited and crowded Hampton Court.
Now we have the real thing, at least partially, as this delightful
CD includes six of the approximately 36 surviving little pieces
by the King. He had a genuine musical interest with court composers
like the elder Bassano boy recorded here, as did his daughter
Elizabeth I who was the patron of Byrd and Tallis. The disc takes
its title from the consort song ‘Elegy on the death of
Thomas Tallis’ which ends the CD.
This disc offers a super showcase for a group, Flautando Köln
- new to me - which was founded in Germany in 1990. They are
joined by other instruments and by the counter-tenor Franz Vitzthum
of whom I had not previously heard. His voice I find deeply impressive
and expressive. So let’s look at a few highlights.
Two sets of recently made recorders are listed at the back of
the booklet and they are slightly different. The CD does not
say which is used where but in Anthony Holbourne’s very
contrasted Pavan and Galliard
we seem to have a higher-lying
consort for the latter dance. Incidentally Holbourne surely is
not, as the adequate booklet essay by Michael Wersin announces “forgotten” -
many of his works have been recorded and are often performed.
Henry’s pieces come off well enough with ‘Helas Madame’ first
heard as a slow improvisation between recorder and lute, then
as a song and finally in a version for recorder consort. Unusually
the CD starts with a recitation by Ursula Thelen from a speech
by Henry VIII.
The lute is used throughout the recital, played crisply and expressively
by Andrea Baur. He sometimes serves as a soloist as in Byrd’s ‘Wolsey’s
Wild’. It’s good also to hear Byrd’s masterful ‘Browning’ variations
played so sensitively on recorders as opposed to the usual viols.
That applies, with the attractive addition of a lute, to the ‘Elegy’ as
well. Two of the most fun songs turn out to be the anonymous ‘What
first did break thee’ and ‘Of all jolly pastimes”,
a song about dogs. In this we hear a vocal dialogue and a duet
between Vitzthum and Ursula Thelen who for a moment puts down
her recorder. It’s interesting also to have Nathanial Patrick
represented by a somewhat moralizing song; now he is
forgotten figure. He was master of the choristers at Worcester
Cathedral and only three works survive by him. He probably died
It’s good to have Robert Johnson represented. He has been
called the ‘King’s Lutenist’. The King in question
was Charles I. Johnson he also wrote music for Shakespeare’s’ company
at ‘The Globe’. This fine song is a setting of words
by Shakespeare’s rival, Ben Jonson.
Speaking of which, if you know your Hamlet you will remember
that Ophelia in her mad scene pathetically sings “snatches
of old tunes” like ‘Bonny Sweet Robin’. Here
we first hear it as a folk melody with simple arpeggiated lute
accompaniment, then in Thomas Simpson’s increasingly complex
set of variants where the melody gets lost in the counterpoint.
As for the two Bassanos, Jeronimo was really Henry’s protégé,
brought over as a young man from Italy. It’s interesting
that his son Antonio lived on in Royal service into the reign
of Charles I. The father is represented by two typically complex
early-Tudor Fantasias in five parts. Being played on recorders
the individual lines are clear even if the dynamics are unvaried.
Augustine is represented by three short dances. These include
two Galliards played in a sprightly manner by Katrin Krauss the
flautist who also features elsewhere. These dances must have
seemed a little old-fashioned by his time.
Much to my surprise, I have greatly enjoyed this CD and have
played it more often than I expected. I thought at first that
it was probably something of ‘dog’s dinner’ with
little focus. But I have been proven wrong. The vocal items are
so arranged as to offer variety from the potentially yards of
recorder music. The other instruments are also given a chance
The cardboard case offers a very attractive booklet with full
texts, the aforementioned essay and nice photographs of the performers
with quite extensive biographies. It is adorned with the music
of a double canon dedicated to Henry VIII encircling a Tudor