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CD: MDT

Dialogues of Sorrow: Passions on the death of Prince Henry, 1612
Robert RAMSEY (fl.1616-1644)
When David heard [2:29]
What Tears, dear Prince? [3:35]
Thomas FORD (d.1648)
‘Tis Now Dead Night [4:03]
William CRANFORD (d. c.1645)
Weep, weep Britons [4:18]
John WARD (c.1589-1638)
No Object Dearer [5:02]
John COPRARIO (c.1570/80-1626)
From Songs of Mourning: O Grief (to the most sacred King James) [3:22] O Poor distracted World (to the World) [2:47]
Thomas WEELKES (c.1575-1623)
O Jonathan, Woe is me [2:15]
When David Heard [3:55]
Richard DERING (c.1580-1630)
And the King was moved [2:16]
Contristatus est David [2:24]
Thomas VAUTO(U)R (fl.1600-1620) Melpomene, bewail [4:22]
Robert RAMSEY
How are the Mighty fall’n [5:34]
Sleep Fleshly Birth [5:40]
John COPRARIO
From Songs of Mourning: So Parted You (to the most princely and virtuous Elizabeth) [4:25]
When Pale Famine (to the most disconsolate Great Britain) [2:54]
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656)
Then David mourned [2:56]
When David heard [3:51]
John WARD
Weep forth your Tears [4:37]
Gallicantus (Amy Moore and Clare Wilkinson (soprano); Mark Chambers and David Allsopp (countertenor); Christopher Watson and Matthew Long (tenor); Gabriel Crouch and William Gaunt (bass)) with Elizabeth Kenny (lute)/Gabriel Crouch
rec. St Michael’s Church, Summertown, Oxford, 1-4 January 2010. DDD.
Texts included.
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD210 [70:46]

Experience Classicsonline


Before listening to this latest offering from Gallicantus and Signum, I did something that I had been meaning to do for some time: I listened to the earlier Gallicantus recording of the Hymns, Psalms and Lamentations of Robert White on Signum SIGCD134, reviewed by Robert Hugill earlier this year - see review. I obtained that earlier recording via download from eMusic. The eight tracks cost just under £2 for those on the old 50-track-per-month tariff in perfectly acceptable mp3 sound (all the tracks are at 224 or 225kb/s). It’s also available from classicsonline and to stream from the Naxos Music Library. The eMusic download comes without notes or texts but Signum generously provide a pdf version of their booklet to all comers on their website, also available to classicsonline purchasers and to subscribers to the Naxos Music Library: this allows listeners to correct some mistakes on the eMusic website, where the hymn Christe qui lux es et dies is bizarrely transformed twice to Christe qui Lex es e Dies - Christ the Law of the day, not its Light. (Classicsonline and the Naxos Library get it right.)
 
I fell completely under the spell of that earlier recording: as Robert Hugill says, we are not blest with so many recordings of the music of White, whom I have long felt to be a much undervalued composer, that we can afford to overlook the Gallicantus recording, even though the music would have been conceived for a rather larger group than the eight voices on that CD. There are just a few excellent versions on White’s music in the catalogue, notably his 5-part Lamentations sung by the Tallis Scholars on Gimell CDGIM996 (see my March 2010 Download Roundup), where the music is by no means shamed by the Lamentations of Tallis and Palestrina, but I echo RH’s call for more of his music from Gallicantus. His 6-part setting of Lamentations, the longest work on the earlier Signum CD, rounds off a most desirable collection.
 
The Tallis Scholars’ version of White’s 5-part Lamentations also features on a budget-price 2-CD Gimell set, with his Magnificat and other music: The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Music Volume 2, CDGIM210, Bargain of the Month - see review. There are also very fine performances of the 5-part Lamentations from The Sixteen (Treasures of Tudor England, Coro COR16056) and the Oxford Camerata (Naxos 8.550572, with Tallis, Palestrina and Lasso.).
 
One small point: Robert Hugill echoes the statement in the Signum booklet that White’s chosen setting of Lamentations 1 would have had no liturgical significance in Elizabethan England, but the 1549 and 1552 editions of the Book of Common Prayer prescribe Lamentations 1 for Evensong on Wednesday in Holy Week. Although the lessons for Holy Week in the Elizabethan (1559) book are different, it may have become the custom in cathedrals and colleges, where Latin was permitted - even usual - for parts of the service, to continue to sing this chapter in Latin in Holy Week.
 
The music on the new CD is more varied in that it contains the works of several composers, but more limited in that it was all written at around the time of the death of Prince Henry in 1612, some of it specifically linked to that event, and it all tends to be in a kind of early-17th-century Anglican house style. I don’t wish, however, to imply that it’s all undifferentiated gloom - far from it. William Byrd’s laments for Sidney (Come to me, grief for ever) and Tallis (Ye sacred Muses) would have been a very hard act to follow, but they set a pattern which the composers here largely follow, with variations. Robin Blaze’s recording of the Byrd, incidentally, with Concordia, has been consigned to Hyperion’s special-order Archive facility, though it remains available to download in mp3 or flac for £7.99 (CDA67397). It doesn’t deserve to languish: I hope that it will return on the budget Helios label.
 
Even more than the death of Prince Arthur a century earlier, which led to his younger brother becoming heir and subsequently King Henry VIII, that of Prince Henry in 1612, probably from typhoid contracted from a swim in the Thames, provoked a bout of sorrow which was certainly genuine at least to a degree in that he had been the white-hot hope of the nation. It also had repercussions well beyond that year, since Henry might just have had the strength of temperament to have prevented the civil war which his younger brother Charles I provoked. Sir Walter Ralegh, imprisoned in the Tower by King James for his opposition to the policy of peace with Spain, certainly lost his last influential supporter and his execution became inevitable, especially after he was released for his second, abortive expedition to Guyana, on which some Spaniards were killed.
 
Some of the composers are better known for music in another style: John Coprario, for example, is better known to me at least for his instrumental music. His Italianate name, incidentally, is one of the affectations of that age - he was, in fact, plain John Cooper. Some, like Prætorius, whose real name was Schultheiss, went one better and Latinised their names. Similarly, the only music by John Ward which I had encountered before consisted of madrigals and instrumental music (notably his consort music recorded by Phantasm on Linn CKD339: Recording of the Month - see review and my October 2009 Download Roundup).
 
Robert Ramsey, represented here by four works (trs. 1-2, 13-14) was a completely new composer to me. It is by no means certain that his two pieces which open the CD relate to the death of Prince Henry; if so, they predate his Cambridge graduation in 1616. Two of the contributors to the Passions on the Death of Prince Henry were also unknown to me: Thomas Ford (tr.3) and William Cranford (tr.4). There are now just three CDs in the current catalogue with music by Ford, including this, and none, other than the current disc, that I can find with anything by Cranford or Ramsey. Their music may be rather more workaday than that of Weelkes and Tomkins, but it is well worth hearing. I have no benchmarks for these pieces, but no reason to believe that any rival versions would outshine the present offerings.
 
The composers and works represented here do, however, contain a fair proportion of the familiar, such as Thomas Weelkes’ anthem When David heard that Absalom was slain (track 9), and Thomas Tomkins’ setting of the same text (track 18), rightly regarded as among the jewels of Anglican music as it was settling down after the upheavals of the 16th century.
 
Thomas Tomkins’ setting of When David heard has been recorded on three excellent all-Tomkins CDs - by Alamire and David Skinner: These Distracted Times (Obsidian OBSID-CD702) and both When David heard and Then David mourned by St George’s Chapel Windsor (Hyperion Helios CDH55066) and by the Tallis Scholars on another all-Tomkins CD, coupled with his Great Service (Gimell CDGIM024). Tomkins’ and Weelkes’s settings of When David heard also figure on a recording of the music of Thomas Weelkes, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tomkins (King’s College Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury, EMI 3944302). (Please see The Tallis Scholars at 30 - review here.)
 
Like the new Signum recording, the EMI places Tomkins in context with his near-contemporaries in performances by the kind of choir which the composers would have had in mind. As such, it’s complementary to the smaller groups on the Gimell, Obsidian and Signum recordings. In my article on the complete Gimell catalogue I noted that there is quite a variety of tempo for Tomkins’ When David heard, with Alamire taking just 3:58, the Tallis Scholars 4:27, St George’s 5:00 and King’s 5:01, yet all sound excellent within context. Gallicantus continue the pattern of the smallest groups adopting the fastest tempi: they take the shortest time of all (3:51). Their time of 2:56 for Then David mourned is very much in line with the Gimell and Hyperion recordings, but their much faster time for When David heard in no way sells the music short, retaining all the pathos of the piece and also injecting plenty of drama into it. In fact, the Tomkins items on the new recording serve to complicate an already difficult choice among so many fine recordings of these two minor masterpieces.
 
Thomas Weelkes’ setting of When David heard is also included on the EMI King’s recording: again Gallicantus (tr.9), with a smaller group and unhindered by the Cambridge reverberation, take this at a swifter pace than King’s without any loss of its affective power.
 
As on the White recording, Gallicantus consists here of a small ensemble of eight singers, though it’s a different group of eight, since the line-up includes two sopranos, not present on the earlier CD. Whether solo or as a group, the singing is every bit as good as on the earlier White programme. They are very well supported in some of the pieces by Elizabeth Kenny on the lute. 
 
The recording is very good throughout. The notes are detailed and informative, both about the political background, including the identification of James I with King David, and about the music. The coloured engraving of Prince Henry on the cover adds to the sense of a fine production. I deduct a few Brownie points, however, for the failure to include the composers’ dates and for the implication in the title, modified in the booklet, that all the music was composed directly for the death of the Prince.
 
Don’t be put off at the prospect of 71 minutes of laments from a group of composers whose styles, though not markedly varied to the modern ear, contain more variety than I may have given you cause to think. Go for the earlier Gallicantus recording of the music of Robert White first, but those who already own that should head straight for the new CD.
 
Brian Wilson 

 


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