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The Tudors: Courtly Pastimes – Songs and Dances from Henry VIII’s Book
St. George’s Canzona/John Sothcott
rec. Decca Studio 3, West Hampstead, London, 11-12 March and 8 May 1972.  ADD.
Texts included
DECCA ELOQUENCE 4804865 [53:11]

I’m pleased to be reacquainted with this reissue of Oiseau-Lyre SOL329, its first appearance on CD.  It’s a very welcome reissue of performances as fresh as when they were set down over forty years ago.

Though none of the music is associated with Christmas, its release in December is apposite: although life at the court of Henry VIII in the latter part of his reign must have been akin to living with Stalin, he was also a gifted musician and his courtiers certainly knew how to enjoy themselves on high days.  Those who watched the dramatization of Wolf Hall on TV or DVD may already have discovered the music from the soundtrack (Via VIA005).  At 36 minutes that’s rather short value as a full-price CD but it can be downloaded for a more reasonable $6.41 from (mp3 and lossless, with 24-bit for $9.62, pdf booklet included).

This is one of three Eloquence reissues with the generic title The TudorsMetaphysical Tobacco contains music by Holborne, East and Dowland, performed by Musica Reservata and the Purcell Consort of Voices, released in 1968 (4807740) and To Entertain a King (4804866), again from 1968 with the Purcell Consort of Voices, directed by Grayston Burgess, offers music from the court of Henry VIII like the Songs and Dances album under review.

When it was first released, in 1973, the music of the period was still comparatively little known.  Though David Munrow and his Early Music Consort had already burst upon the scene with music from Susato’s La Danserye, released in 1971 on HQS1249, coupled with music for broken consort by Thomas Morley, his more famous recording of dance and vocal music by Prætorius was yet to come on CSD3761 in 1974.  The contents of those two LPs and several more items remain available on a most recommendable Erato/Virgin Veritas budget-price twofer (3500032, around £10). 

With Philip Pickett’s later complete Danserye recording now download only, that remains the most complete collection of the Susato dances and two of the items on the Eloquence release are duplicated there.  Some of the music on 4804866, too, is duplicated here: it’s a little unfortunate that the two have been reissued together, especially as I have already recommended the Grayston Burgess performances on an earlier Argo reissue.  I preferred that to a more recent Chandos release of music of the period when I compared them in July 2009 – review – and time has not dimmed my appreciation.  Subscribers to Qobuz can stream it there.  (But don’t purchase it, without booklet and for more than the cost of the CD).

These older recordings have been criticised in some quarters for throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, crumhorns, great bass rebecs and all, but they are immensely entertaining.  Even Philip Pickett’s New London Consort recording of the complete Danserye sounds somewhat tame by comparison with the Munrow and with the dances included here. 

Even the closing Mourisque which closes the Eloquence CD sounds rather tame by comparison with the Munrow recording, though it’s probably closer to what contemporaries would have heard.  For once, Pickett soups this up further than either by making his own arrangement as an opening fanfare.

John Sothcott, who directs his own realisations of the music, was also a founder member of Musica Reservata, whose performances of renaissance music were typified by a forthright open-throated style of singing and the music here is also treated to fairly fast and forthright performance, though never to the extent that it sounds crude. Indeed, some of the singing, like that of And I were a maiden – see below – is extremely moving.

The music of Cornysh, in particular, combines a ready appeal with sophistication.  The opening Blow thy horn, hunter contains a number of fairly indelicate double entendres, hinted at but not made explicit in the notes, and the words are much less elegant than Wyatt’s treatment of the same concept – courtly love as a hunt – in his sonnet Whoso list to hunt.  Cornysh steers a skilful course between Scylla and Charybdis in setting the words.  Having heard his secular music here you may well wish to explore his mainly sacred works via Gimell CDGIM014 (The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips) or as scattered among The Sixteen’s CDs of music from the Eton Choirbook on the Coro label.

The anonymous setting of And I were a maiden may not be quite the equal of Cornysh’s music but here again words which could have been treated coarsely – the lady in question is clearly not a maiden any more – receive a delicate treatment which is carried off to perfection by the performers.  (And meaning if, and used with the subjunctive).

Alfred Deller apart, the rediscovery of the counter-tenor was still in its infancy in 1972.  James Bowman, who sang with David Munrow’s Early Music Consort, had been the first counter-tenor to sing at Glyndebourne in 1970, so it’s no surprise and no shame to report that the two counter-tenors are the weakest link – but not a very weak link – in a strong vocal contingent.  Even so, one of them, Derek Harrison, makes a very good fist of the part of the coy milkmaid in Hey trolly lolly lo.

I presume that the notes in the booklet are taken from the original LP sleeve.  Though informative, they fail to explain what ‘The King’s Book’ mentioned in the title was: most of the music comes from a collection in the British Library, Additional MS 31922, edited by John Stevens, who deserves to be credited as much as John Sothcott for realising the music.  The collection comes from Henry VIII’s household and several of the pieces are indicated as having been composed by him.

There is another 1970s recording of music of this period that has withstood the passage of time: on Alto ALC1015 the contents of the better part of two Saga LPs of music from the time of Henry VII and Henry VIII are combined.  The performances by the Hilliard Ensemble and New London Consort are as fine as, perhaps even finer than, those on the Eloquence reissue. Review and Download Roundup July 2009.  Ideally you need them both: fortunately the Alto is at budget price and the Eloquence at low-mid-price so both together won’t cost too much.  The Eloquence playing time is not great but, unlike the Alto combination of two LPs, there was nothing else for Decca to patch in.

Brian Wilson

William CORNYSH (1465-1523) Blow thy horn, hunter [3:47]
Tielman SUSATO (1500-1561) Pour quoy [0:45]
Claude GERVAISE (1540-1583) Allemande [1:01]
William CORNYSH Whiles life or breath [2:57]
Pierre ATTAIGNANT (1494-1552) Tourdion [0:53]
Florentino MASCHERA (1540-1584) Canzona quarta [1:56]
RYSBYE (?-?) Whoso that will himself apply [0:53]
HENRY VIII (1491-1547) Tho’ some saith that youth ruleth me [2:33]
Tielman SUSATO Saltarelle [0:42]
Anonymous Instrumental Consort [1:25]
Time to pass with goodly sport [1:52]
Dr D. COOPER (fl.1514) I have been a foster [4:31]
Anonymous Let us not that young men be [1:48]
Tielman SUSATO Le cueur est bon (basse danse) [1:42]
Entré du fol (basse danse) [1:05]
HENRY VIII If love now reigned [1:27]
The time of youth [1:54]
Anonymous And I were a maiden [1:10]
Florentino MASCHERA Canzona seconda [2:57]
Claude GERVAISE La volunté [2:03]
William CORNYSH Adieu, mes amours [1:52]
Fa la sol [7:16]
Anonymous Hey trolly lolly lo [3:40]
Tielman SUSATO La Mourisque [0:54]


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