Peter PHILIPS (1560/61 - 1628)
Christus resurgens (1612) [3.45]
Disciplinam et sapientiam (1612) [2.27]
Loquebantur variis linquis (1612) [2.51]
Ne reminiscaris, Domine (1612) [2.52]
Gabriel Angelus apparuit (1612) [3.07]
Viae Sion lugent (1612) [3.13]
Ave Jesu Christe (1613) [3.53]
Pater Noster (1612) [3.40]
Beata Agnes (1612) [4.09]
Elegerunt Apostoli (1612) [3.21]
Media Vita (1612) [3.40]
Ave Regina caelorum (1613) [3.38]
Ave gratia plena (1612) [3.00]
Ecce vicit Leo (1613) [3.50]
Ne timeas Maria (1612) [1.53]
Gaude Maria virgo (1612) [3.07]
Virgo prudentissima (1612) [3.34]
Cum jucunditate (1612) [2.51]
Salve regina (1612) [2.51]
Eia ergo (1612) [3.07]
The Sarum Consort (Olivia Robinson, Clare Reeder, Deborah Mackay, Alison Bullock, Adrian Kelly, Colin Howard, Richard Brett, Aidan Oliver)/Andrew Mackay; Nigel Gardner (organ)
rec. Wardour Chapel, Tisbury, Wiltshire, 28-30 August 2000
NAXOS 8.572832 [65.08]
Peter Philips achieved great fame in his lifetime. William Byrd was the only English composer to have a greater number of works published. We know relatively little about him and his works have not attained the prominence of Byrd’s. Both composers were Catholic, but Philips achieved no sort of accommodation with the English authorities. Instead he left England and ended up in Rome, where he came into contact with Anerio and Palestrina. Entering the service of Lord Thomas Paget, another English Catholic refugee, the two travelled Europe until, on Paget’s death, Philips came to rest in Antwerp. There he married, taught and developed a relationship with an influential publisher.
His Cantiones Sacrae Quinis Vocibus, a collection of 69 motets, was published in 1612 and Cantiones Sacrae Octonibus Vocibus, a collection of 38 motets, was published in 1613. Though Philips has had some distinguished editors in the 20th century, his music does not seem to have had the wider availability accorded to that of Byrd. This is a shame, because Philips’ motets are delightfully fascinating, with a careful intertwining of parts making these works both interesting and tricky.
Naxos have issued a collection of Philips motets before. On this disc the Sarum Concert, under director Andrew Mackay, sing one to a part in the case of some of the motets with a discreet organ accompaniment. The five-part motets - generally scored for two sopranos, alto, tenor and bass - are sung by Olivia Robinson and Clare Reeder, sopranos, Deborah Mackay, alto, Adrian Kelly, tenor and Richard Brett, bass; with Aidan Oliver providing the second bass part in the motets scored SATBB.
They open with the Easter motet, Christus resurgens and finish with the double Marian antiphon, Salve Regina and Eia ergo. Along the way the programme is varied without any particular liturgical theme. The eight-part motets, Ave Jesu Christe, Ave Regina Caelorum, Ecce vicit Leo punctuate the programme and provide some interesting contrasts in texture. The remaining five-part motets generally use two soprano parts with just Pater Noster and Media vita using two bass parts.
The performers use just one voice to a part. Their performances are technically very adept, with the singers secure in their tuning. They form a flexible ensemble, without overly blended homogeneity, keeping recognisably fine lines. There is much to admire on this disc, very much; such technical security and finely modulated line is no mean feat.
All of that said, I have to admit, that though I wanted to like the performances, I didn’t find them as appealing as I would have wished. In the five-part motets, the relative balance between the voices rather favours the sopranos. After an entire disc I rather worried that on repeated listening, this could become wearying. Also, the two interior voices are slightly under-powered at times.
In style, the performances are understated and nicely modulated. They rather underplay the rhythmic delights. Occasionally, as in Ecce vicit Leo the polychoral banter is done in a rhythmically vital way, but too often the rhythmic interest has some of the vitality ironed out of it. Perhaps many listeners will not find this a problem, but having sung a number of Philips motets myself, it is the very contrast in textures that I relish. The Sarum Consort seems more concerned to keep the textures homogeneous. The motets where Philips sets the text homophonically work well in this treatment. One final moan: I would have liked the singers to have made more of the texts.
The Consort recorded a first disc of Philips motets in 1999, which was released on the Gaudeamus label. This disc was recorded in 2000 and seems to have sat on the shelf for quite a while before being issued on Naxos.
Despite my moans, there is much to admire and perhaps even love in this disc, not least the repertoire and the singers’ bravery in performing it one to a part. The performances don’t quite succeed, for all the artists’ technical confidence. Even so, I will certainly be playing the disc again.
Robert Hugill 

Despite my moans, there is much to admire and perhaps even love in this disc.