All the Queen’s Men - Music for Elizabeth I
Full contents listed at end of review
The Sarum Consort/Andrew Mackay
Jacob Heringman (lute)
rec. Sarum St Martin, Salisbury, Wiltshire, 17-18 July 2009
texts not included but will be available on the Naxos website
NAXOS 8.572582 [50:41]
The background to this disc is that of an entertainment. Deborah MacKay, who along with conductor Andrew MacKay, wrote the booklet essay, had the idea of illustrating the Queen’s ‘progress’ across England with a night’s musical and dramatic entertainment. A contemporary quote at the start of the essay tells us what that might have been like. The full text is available through the Naxos website.
The Sarum Consort have been around since 1992 and consists of about ten voices all experienced but generally young. Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘not another disc of miscellaneous Elizabethan music!’ You might even baulk, as I have done to a certain extent, at having such a large group singing madrigals although in fact it works out to only two voices per part. However some of these are quite big. I did feel at times that the approach was a little heavy and lacking in subtle dynamics. In addition they are not helped by a rather close and airless recording despite the church acoustic. That was certainly a view I took early on with the first track: Weelkes’ brilliant madrigal As Vesta was from Latmos Hill. However the way conductor - yes a conductor for madrigals - Andrew Mackay builds the climax in this wonderfully exhilarating piece is captivating. So it was that I began to feel a little more at home. However the problem seems to me to be even more acute in the Morley madrigal Hard by a Crystal Fountain, which is surely too heavy.
Weelkes’ madrigal and those by Hunt, East (his Hence Stars - which is surely taken here at too fast a tempo) and Morley come from the famous ‘Triumphs of Oriana’ published under Morley’s guidance in 1601. Other madrigals derive from general collections of the period. The three by Wilbye come from his superlative 2nd Set of 1609, Tomkins’ madrigal from his only collection of 1622 and that by Ferrabosco from his sole publication of 1609. Incidentally this means that they are all Jacobean. How these fit into a 1590s celebration of the Queen’s progress I’m not sure. Surely other, more historically appropriate pieces could have been selected. Never mind. It’s good to have the Hunt piece, Hark! Did you ever hear is a strongly imitative and quite complex madrigal. It seems that Hunt was organist at Wells Cathedral so perhaps his musical world was mainly sacred and polyphonic. Also not well known are the songs of Alfonso Ferrabosco II. So beauty on the waters stood with words by his friend Ben Jonson was probably written for a court masque. There are two sacred works: Gibbons’ joyous O Clap your hands and, an unusual choice this, a sensitively performed Latin motet Laboravi in gemitu meo a setting of Psalm VI by Philippe Rogier. He’s a composer not much recorded but of late to be discovered on Linn recorded spectacularly by His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts. This motet was published by Morley - hence its inclusion.
Sometimes the Sarum Consort sing just one voice per part and this is quite pleasing as in Wilbye’s Oft have I vowed. To add variety the choral items are broken up by lute solos as with the delightful Robin - a set of simple variations on a tune quoting by the mad Ophelia in Hamlet. There’s also the lute song, Dowland’s magical Time, Stands Still. Good things here. However the slightly measly playing time is something of a disappointment. Also a disappointment is the lack of texts. For those we must go to the Naxos web site (just type the CD number) - an all too common occurrence nowadays. The Sarum excel in diction so you might not need to bother.
The songs are pleasingly done by soloists Alison Hill in the Ferrabosco and Duncan Byrne in the Dowland. Both can however tend to sound expressionless.
The highlights: I especially enjoyed the longest track, the motet by Rogier, and the last track: Wilbye’s famous Draw on Sweet night. This gives the wonders of Jacob Heringman’s lute a chance to weave a counterpoint discreetly around the ten voices, balancing well.
There are some pleasing moments on this CD. There are several well-known sources and composers to be tapped into. If you are new to this repertoire then this is a good place from which to begin your journey of exploration.
see also review by John Sheppard
A good place from which to begin your journey of exploration.
Thomas WEELKES (c.1575-1623) As Vesta was from Latmos Hill descending [3:43]
Thomas HUNT (1580-1658) Hark! Did ye ever hear? [3:18]
William BYRD (c.1540-1623) O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth [2:56]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625) O clap your hands [5:11]
ANON Robin is to the greenwood tree [2:13]
Alfonso FERRABOSCO (c.1575-1628) So beauty on the waters stood [1:42]
Philippe ROGIER (c.1561-1596) Laboravi in gemitu meo [6:04]
Michael EAST (c.1580-1648) Hence, stars, too dim of light [1:55]
John WILBYE (1574-1638) Oft have I vow’d [3:53]; Ye that do live in pleasures [2:40]; Draw on, sweet night [5:22]
John DOWLAND (c.1563-1626) Time stands still [3:27]; The Right Honourable the Lady Rich, her galliard [1:48]
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656) Adieu, ye city-prisoning towers [2:23]
Thomas MORLEY (1558-1603) Hard by a crystal fountain [4:07]