Christopher TYE (c.1505–1573)
Quæsumus omnipotens et misericors Deus [6:25]
Missa Euge bone (6vv.) [22:04]
Give almes of thy goods [1:47]
Christ rising [3:40]
Peccavimus cum patribus nostris [11:39]
Western Wynde Mass (4vv.) [24:39]
Nunc dimittis [3:33]
The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell
rec. All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, 20-22 June 2011. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA67928 [73:41]
This recording is scheduled for release on CD in May 2012 but is available in advance for download from hyperion-records.co.uk in mp3 and lossless sound; my review is based on the latter. The CD can be pre-ordered.
We now have three excellent performances of Tye’s masterpiece, the Euge bone Mass – with a possible fourth if the ASV recording of three of his Masses were ever to be reissued: it’s currently not available but some ASV recordings are gradually trickling back into the catalogue. Two rival recordings come at budget price:
Kyrie ‘Orbis factor’ [3:39]
Missa Euge bone [26:16]
Quæsumus omnipotens Deus [6:55]
Miserere mei, Deus [9:16]
Omnes gentes, plaudite manibus [4:14]
Peccavimus cum patribus nostris [13:40]
The Choir of Winchester Cathedral/David Hill – rec. March 1990. DDD
Booklet with texts and translations included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55079 [64:49] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (on CD, mp3 and lossless downloads.)
Omnes gentes, plaudite manibus [5:22]
Missa Euge bone [25:36]
William MUNDY (c.1529-c.1591) Magnificat [9:58]
Christopher TYE Peccavimus cum patribus nostris [12:47]
Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly – rec. 1993. DDD.
Booklet with texts and translations included
NAXOS 8.550937 [58:23] – on CD, download from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library
I can fully endorse Gary Higginson’s high opinion of the Winchester version ‘This is a fine disc, the music is attractive and the polyphony never too impenetrable or over long. The singing is first class… Anyone who likes English polyphony should get this CD which is most attractively priced.’ (See review for details.) The Naxos recording has been a valued part of my CD collection since it was released almost twenty years ago
It would seem, with two such strong rivals for half the price, that the new Hyperion needs to be especially good to justify itself.
I think that there is enough that is distinctive to recommend it: the inclusion of Tye’s other masterpiece, the Western Wynde Mass - though I must point out the availability of this work on an inexpensive Gimell set listed below; the interspersing of the Latin and English works and, not least, the generous playing time. In many ways it’s the inclusion of the English settings that is most instructive, since there is so little difference in style between the two, partly because Tye’s Latin settings are less florid, less elaborate than those of his contemporaries.
In comparison Tallis’s English settings sound a pale imitation of their Latin counterparts; it was not until Byrd’s Great Service, Second Service and English anthems that Tye’s talent in both languages was rivalled and exceeded. I’m not sure that Tye’s setting of the Easter anthem Christ rising from the dead, which here receives a powerful performance, doesn’t match Byrd’s English setting of the same text of which you’ll find several versions on YouTube. They are not really comparable, since the Byrd 6-part setting with viol accompaniment is more domestic in tone – there’s a good recording of this and other music, vocal and instrumental, by Byrd performed by Red Byrd and the Rose Consort on Naxos 8.550604.
The English setting of Nunc Dimittis is odd in that the text doesn’t correspond to that in any version of the Book of Common Prayer. It predates even the first Book of 1549 and shows the composer’s way with English texts at an early date. The simplicity of the setting and the sympathetic performance which it receives means that it rounds off the programme quietly and very effectively.
The Euge bone Mass fits the reformers’ desire for one note per syllable so well – a rule also formulated by the Roman Catholic Council of Trent – that it’s impossible to say when it was composed: in the latter part of the reign of Henry VIII or in that of Edward VI, Mary or Elizabeth. The Naxos notes suggest that of the young reformer King Edward, whose tutor was Tye’s younger contemporary Mundy, for the Mass and the associated quæsumus omnipotens Deus – yet the Naxos recording is the only one of the three not to include that work for comparison.
Like many Tudor settings, Tye’s Euge bone Mass comes without Kyries, perhaps in this case because these had been replaced in the Book of Common Prayer by the Ten Commandments. It was usually assumed that these would be chanted, though, paradoxically, Taverner composed a separate polyphonic setting of them, not attached to any complete Mass, the Kyrie Leroy. (Find it sung by The Tallis Scholars with Taverner’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, etc., on Gimell CDGIM004 – or stream from Naxos Music Library). One reason for this common omission may have been the late medieval tendency to introduce ‘farced’ tests, often very elaborate, into the simple nine-fold Kyrie eleison-Christe eleison. Several of these are included in the Sarum Missal.
O’Donnell simply performs what Tye sets as part of the Euge bone Mass but Summerly includes a separate setting of the Kyrie and Hill begins with a setting of one of those farced setting, Kyrie orbis factor. In this respect, the new recording is less instructive than the two older ones.
That Euge bone comes in tandem with the Western Wynde Mass on the new Hyperion, however, swings the balance in the other direction. The performance rivals that on Gimell; in a sense they are not in competition because, as you would expect, a cathedral performance with boys’ voices on the top line is different from that of a small professional group. With Tye’s reformist tendencies, too, it’s appropriate that Hyperion have recorded the music at Westminster Abbey rather than the Cathedral. As you might have expected, James O’Donnell takes the music at a faster pace than Peter Phillips with the Tallis Scholars but you would never notice the difference unless you played them serially, a silly game which reviewers have to play. Even then I certainly couldn’t say that one was unduly fast or the other unduly slow.
That Gimell recording of the Western Wynde Mass which I’ve mentioned is on The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Music (I), Gimell CDGIM209, 2CDs for 1 – see my review for details. Like the two budget-price recordings of the Euge bone Mass it sets a very high standard against which the new recording has to compete and it comes in the company of equally splendid recordings of the music of Tye’s contemporaries. In fact, it’s so good that you’ll probably want to purchase the companion 2-CD set of the music of later Tudor composers too (CDGIM210, reviewed jointly with Volume 1).
If it’s the two Tye Masses together and in the company of his little-performed English-texted music that you want, however, the new Hyperion recording is unrivalled. If you prefer boys’ voices, that’s an added advantage. With very good recording in an ideal acoustic and notes of the usual high Hyperion quality, you won’t be disappointed. Even the cover merits special mention – Christ holding the world in His hand, as in the vision of Julian of Norwich, from the Westminster Retable.
Despite the strong competition, this has strong claims of its own.