The Tudors at Prayer
John TAVERNER (c.1495-1545)
Quemadmodum desiderat
William MUNDY (c.1529-1591)
Vox patris caelestis [21.41]
Adhaesit pavimento
Adolescentulus sum ego
Robert WHITE (c.1538-1574)
Tota pulchra es
Domine, quis habitabit
(III) [8.38]
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)
Suscipe Quaeso [9.35]
William BYRD (c.1543-1623)
Tribue, Domine [13.08]
Magnificat/Philip Cave
rec. St. George’s Church, Chesterton, Cambridge, 14-17 January 2013
LINN CKD447 SACD [79.11]

This is, I think, the ninth CD recorded by Magnificat for Linn. Their discs are always luxuriously packaged with largely helpful essays, coloured photographs, superbly recorded and generous in length. Amongst their honours we must count Philippe Rogier’s rare polychoral works (review) and major pieces from the sixteenth century heard for example on their ‘Spem in alium’ CD (review).

The Tudors in question on the present disc take us from the reign of Henry VIII when Taverner was working on pieces like his Quemadmodum desiderat cervus through the short reign of Queen Mary, when William Mundy’s works may well have been written, to Tallis and Byrd whose Cantiones Sacrae were dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I.

With its words taken from Psalm 42, Taverner’s Quemadmodum is the earliest motet here. In fact it has come down to us as a textless piece. The suggestion that these lines particularly applied to it was only speculated by H.B. Collins in the 1920s. In this wonderfully expressive performance the words seem to be ideal for this moving music - probably a late work dating from about 1540.

The grandest non-mass setting of the entire period is Vox patris caelestis by Mundy, which weighs in at well over twenty minutes. It is a setting in nine sections of an expansion of a section from The Song of Songs. Philip Cave is quite leisurely in his approach whereas The Sixteen under Harry Christopher (Hyperion CDA66319) knock four minutes off its length by quite dramatically moving on the middle sections. Both approaches have their strengths and the work is clearly a masterpiece not least in its variety of vocal colourisations.

Two other works by Mundy are represented. Whereas the above piece is in the massive and florid style of Taverner or even the Eton Choir Book, the two psalm motets Adhaesit pavimento and Adolescentulus sum ego are more in the closely imitative style cultivated on the continent by Josquin and Gombert but with an occasional English cadence thrown in to give the music a more local character. This latter motet here performed by male voices is a very expressive piece and was also recorded by The Sixteen who seem to be almost careful in comparison with the more vigorous approach of Magnificat.

The Song of Songs, that most surprising and often quite erotic book found in the Old Testament, is well represented with a setting of Tota pulcra est by Robert White. White was a composer, like his contemporary Robert Parsons, who died young and who has a definite sound of his own. I’m not going to attempt to analyse it but it is very expressive and spacious if a little archaic for its time. The piece has a clear plainchant in the tenor part. The psalm motet Domine, quis habitabit is more in the closely imitative style which grows in intensity until its final ‘non movebitur in aeternum, A-men’.

By the time Tallis’s Suscipe, quaeso Domine was published in the 1575 collection of Cantiones Sacrae, the florid melismatic style of his youth in motets like Ave Dei Patris Filia were ‘old hat’. Composers couldn’t stop writing polyphony but this later work is clear in its lines and overall expressive qualities, which were more in keeping with the demands of the Elizabethan age. I say that with a little question mark as Chapelle du Roi under Alistair Dixon recorded the piece (in a much faster performance) for Signum in 1997 on a CD entitled ‘Music for Queen Mary’ (review). Indeed its penitential mood may fit better into the earlier reign. Even so it’s a fine if little known work.

From the same collection comes Byrd’s Tribue, Domine stands as one of his most sincerely worked motets from this time and comes towards the end of the historic publication. It is basically a hymn of praise to God and sets words by St. Augustine. In truth it represents the type of votive antiphon found thirty or so years earlier but it is a memorably melodic work. This performance is more restrained and thoughtful than I have heard before and this brings out its lyrical side even more.

I am personally familiar with the church in Chesterton where this recording was made. It is a spacious building with a pleasing resonance and in a generally quiet area; ideal in fact for this repertoire and choir. Philip Cave realises how to work with this venue and with the Linn engineers creates a warm and sonorous sound.

Texts are provided but the typeface although elegant is not always conducive to visual clarity.

Gary Higginson

Previous review: John Quinn


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