Thomas WEELKES (c.1576-1623)
Ninth Service, Evening Service and Anthems
Alleluia, I heard a voice [2:56]
Give ear, O Lord* [5:31]
Evening Service for five voices:
Nunc Dimittis [3:10]
Hosanna to the Son of David [1:51]
When David Heard [4:56]
O Lord, Grant the King a Long Life [2:01]
Give the King Thy Judgements+ [5:31]
Gloria in Excelsis Deo [3:01]
Nunc Dimittis [6:48]
Stephen Carter* +, Richard Roberts* (altos); Andrew Carwood* (tenor);
Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
rec. Dorchester Abbey, Oxon., 13-14 March 1988. DDD.
NIMBUS NI5125 [50:42]
This 1988 recording – nearly a quarter century old! – has already been expertly reviewed on-site by Brian Wilson, so I shall add just a few words about a disc that seems to me still to exert a real pull, irrespective of the occasional unevenness of Weelkes’s writing.
The music centres on the Ninth and the Evening Services and reveals his flair for dramatic oration. It also reveals the desperate state of some of the surviving music itself, much of it having to be reconstructed by David Wulstan in an act of heroic intervention.
The disc begins with the exuberant freshness of Alleluia, I heard a voice and the gentle flowing Give ear, O Lord where the fine solo contributions of Stephen Carter, Richard Roberts (altos) and Andrew Carwood (tenor) are augmented by the deft organ registrations; the voices are finely focused in this piece. The Evening Service for five voices is represented by the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. The former is taken at a fluent tempo; the text is excellently articulated – a feature of the performance as a whole, in fact – whilst the Nunc Dimittis is the more technically exploratory of the two, the more daring, and the more compact.
The brief Hosanna to the Son of David was probably written for ceremonial use. It certainly has a public face to it, a robust quality, whereas When David Heard by contrast is a pliant, yielding setting prompted probably – there are a lot of ‘probablys’ in Weelkes’s biography – by the premature death of Henry, Prince of Wales, in 1612. O Lord, Grant the King a Long Life comes from Psalm 61, and is again compact and spruce. Give the King Thy Judgements is taken at a sedate tempo, though not an inflexible one, but Gloria in Excelsis Deo is certainly up-to-tempo. Even at this speed it doesn’t tax the Christ Church trebles, and Stephen Darlington ensures that there is tempo flexibility within this broadly fast speed. The Ninth Service was almost certainly – qualifications are a necessity with Weelkes, as we’ve seen – written for the virtuosi of the Chapel Royal. The Magnificat is subdivided and sonically splendid, though once again one must note that it too lacks vocal parts and Wulstan has had to restore them with painstaking precision. Weelkes manages here both to enshrine and embody traditional English church music of the previous century – Byrd, say – and also to strike out to new frontiers and the result is fruitful, grand and invigorating.
Once again Christ Church was recorded on ‘away’ soil, as they were in a Palestrina disc of theirs from Nimbus. In this case it’s Dorchester Abbey, Oxon, now the home of the English Music Festival. Again there is fine sound quality and full texts.
Fruitful, grand and invigorating.