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CD: Crotchet

Ye Sacred Muses - Music from the House of Tudor
Henry VIII (1491-1547)
Gentil prince de renom
En vray amoure [1:52]
Helas Madame [2:05]
Adieu madame et ma maistress [2:30]
Taunder naken [2:07]
William BYRD (1543-1623)
La Volta
Wolsey’s Wilde [1:18]
Pavana [3:50]
Browning [4:00]
The Hunt’s Up [2:13]
Ye Sacred Muses [3:40]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Go nightly cares [3:28]
Anthony HOLBOURNE (c.1545-1602)
Pavan - The Funerals
Galliard - High ho holiday [0:45]
Nathanial PATRICK (1569-1595)
Climb not too high
Richard JOHNSON (1580-1633)
Have you seen the bright lily grow?
Thomas SIMPSON (1582-1620)
Ricercar ‘Bonny Sweet Robin’
Augustine BASSANO (c.1525-1604)
Galliard [0:58]
Galliard [0:50]
Jeronimo BASSANO (1559-1604)
Fantasia a 5 No 1
Fantasia a 5 No 2 [3:48]
Consort XXI
What first did break thee [2:38]
Of all jolly pastimes [1:32]
Sing aloud harmonious spheres [1:58]
Flautando Köln (Katherina Hess; Susanne Hochscheid; Ursula Thelen; Kerstin de Witt) with Franz Vitzthum (counter-tenor); Andrea Cordula Baur (lute); Katrin Krauss (flute)
rec: WDR Funkhaus: Klaus-v-Bismark-Saal, 24-28 November 2008: ADD
CARUS 83.433 [64:02]
Experience Classicsonline

As I write (August 2009) we seem to be fairly swept along by Henry VIII mania. We mark the 500th anniversary of 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 a forgotten figure. He was master of the choristers at Worcester Cathedral and only three works survive by him. He probably died very young.

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 to shine.

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 rose.

Gary Higginson 



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