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CD: Buywell

John WARD (1571-1638)
First Book of Madrigals (1613)
see end of review for track listing
The Consort of Musick (Madrigal Ensemble: Emma Kirkby (soprano); Poppy Holden (soprano); Jacqueline Fox (mezzo); Evelyn Tubb (mezzo); Mary Nichols (alto); Cathy Cass (alto); Joseph Cornwell (tenor); Hugh Hetherington (tenor); Andrew King (tenor); John Milne (bass); Francis Steele (bass); Richard Wistreich (bass); Viol Consort: Trevor Jones (treble viol); Alison Crum (treble viol); Piet Stryckers (tenor viol); Oliver Hirsh (bass viol); Gregory Anthony (bass viol))/Anthony Rooley
rec. May 1980, Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London. ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 1816 [46.02 + 49.38]

Experience Classicsonline

CDs of English madrigals have been exceedingly thin on the ground of late so it is with much pleasure that I welcome this disc. It seems to me that one of the greatest periods in English musical history (c.1580-1625) has been under-represented for a long time. The Italian madrigalists are more fully reflected in the catalogue and so they should be, but the English madrigalists remain undervalued. As I write it is still not possible to hear all of the two madrigal collections of John Wilbye, surely as significant a figure as any Italian and one of the country’s greatest composers. Even Byrd’s complete madrigals, perhaps not his best pieces (but almost everything else is recorded) are not available let alone collections by Weelkes, whose church music is much recorded, Francis Pilkington, Giles Farnaby and Thomas Bateson all very worthy figures generally only found in anthology recordings. True we have Vautor, Gibbons, Tomkins, some of Ravenscroft and most of Morley but there are many missing names. John Ward has not really been missing from the catalogue but, to amateur singers, his music may be quite unknown. This is probably because in the easily available editions of madrigals by Penguin (‘Upon a Bank’) or Oxford (‘Come sable night’ and ‘Out of the Vale’) or in Stainer and Bell’s worthy but dated ‘Invitation to Madrigals’ (‘In Health and ease’) he is hardly represented at all. Another reason is that some writers, for example Joseph Kerman in his ground-breaking ‘The Elizabethan Madrigal’ (American Musicological Society 1962), found that Ward “lacked imagination and especially when coming from the work of his model John Wilbye one finds his music sententious and always a little uninteresting”. On the contrary Anthony Rooley and his dozen singers who first sang though every published madrigal book, when they came to Ward’s single book (despite its title) allotted almost everything three stars even the four part ones which Edmund Fellows (The English Madrigal Composers OUP 1921) says is the “least interesting part of the book”. He obviously hadn’t heard the searching chromaticisms of “How long shall I with mournful music stain”, or indeed the Fantasia III, something quite rare in Ward’s music which generally aims more for the overall mood of the text rather than its individual moments. Ward indulges in word-painting in most madrigals. Especially good examples can be heard in the great madrigal “If the deep sighs” in the section “I hear the echoes wondering to and fro” and later in “But as new showers, increase the rising flood”. 

It was in 1980 that Rooley made his major excursion into the madrigals. A BBC series gave us a chance to hear a short selection from each of the 36 published and extant volumes by composers some of whom were quite unknown. For the first time we heard music by Henry Youll and Henry Lichfield. And at that time Rooley gained a grant to record Ward’s entire Book for Decca. For some reason, in 1985, he re-recorded some for Hyperion and added an extra three madrigals that were only found in manuscript (CDA66258). Perhaps after five years the singers had melded and the sense of ensemble and blend is certainly more assured. However the freshness found in these 1980 recordings was not recaptured and the voices remain younger and brighter than on Hyperion.
The Book is divided into three, four, five and six part settings and it’s tempting to see the ones in three and to a certain extent in four parts almost as apprentice pieces. These latter were written over the previous decade or even longer, possibly in the more frivolous days of ‘Good Queen Bess’. With the five and six parters we reach works of far greater proportion and power. They evince a composer grown in confidence and ability. These latter pieces are some of the finest ever composed and are typical of the darker and more uncertain world of the Jacobeans, the age of Shakespeare’s great Tragedies and later Romances. It seems apt that the last piece “Weep forth your tears’ should be ‘In memory of Prince Henry’.
Another way in which Ward’s book stands apart from many others is in his choice of poets and texts. For instance we start with two by Sir Philip Sydney; Michael Drayton appears regularly. Only Richard Carleton, a composer-priest from Norfolk of moderate ability, chose such fine poets. However most madrigal texts are anonymous. Perhaps the composers themselves wrote them; by the poetic standard of most that would not be too surprising.
Like Wilbye at Hengrave Hall in Suffolk (now only used for chic weddings by the way), Ward was not just a household musician. Working for Sir Henry Fanshawe in Essex he was also responsible for administrative affairs so that his musical life was probably confined to his spare moments. One wonders if the performance of all secular music was mainly at night as both composers enjoy texts which concern the evening and night-time: ‘Come sable night’, ‘Retire my troubled soul’ or Wilbye’s ‘Sweet Night draw on’ and ‘Softly, o softly drop mine eyes’. But Ward also wrote some church music (rarely heard) and several Fantasias for viols. They have been recorded complete by the Rose Consort and by Phantasm. Here however we have just four, nicely dividing up the book and played with consummate beauty by the consort’s viol players. They are really instrumental madrigals and sport some some memorable ideas. The viols are also used to accompany the first and last madrigals of the set, with two sopranos as in ‘apt for voices and viols’.
I have absolutely no doubt that the decision to record Ward complete was a good one and can only hope that some of the other Decca/Rooley enterprises, originally out on LP in the early 1980s will also emerge on CD. To hear such expressive singing and to encounter Emma Kirkby and Evelyn Tubb as well as Joseph Cornwell and Richard Wistreich in their prime and freshness is unbeatable. Anthony Rooley’s own contribution cannot be underestimated. 

Gary Higginson 

Track listing
My true love hath my heart (1stPart) [1.54]
His heart his wound received (2ndPart) [2.06]
O say, dear life [1.29]
In Health and ease am I [1.44]
Go, wailing accents [1.46]
Fly not so fast [1.45]
Fantasia XIV [3.20]
A satyr once did run away [1.34]
O my thoughts surcease [1.38]
Sweet Pity wake [2.12]
Love is a dainty [2.03]
Free from Love’s bonds [1.54]
How long shall I [2.35]
Fantasia IV [3.27]
Sweet Philomel (1stPart) [2.20]
Ye Sylvan nymphs (2nd part) [3.03]
Flora, fair nymph [2.12]
Phyllis the bright [2.22]
Hope of my heart [3.02]
Upon a bank of roses [2.43]
Fantasia III [3.37]
Retire, my troubled soul [3.37]
Oft have I tendered [4.30]
Out from the Vale [3.11]
O divine Love [3.44]
Fantasia VIII [3.25]
If the deep sighs [4.55]
There’s not a grove -second part [5.01]
Die not, fond man [3.25]
I have entreated [4.22]
Come, sable night [4.56]
Weep forth your tears [5.15]



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