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Music for Wimpole Hall
Thomas TUDWAY (c.1670-1726)
Jubilate - Wimpole [8:45]
I will lift up mine eyes [7:09]
Hail, happy day - An Ode composed for the Queen’s Birthday [10:06]
O how amiable are thy dwellings [11:33]
Te Deum - Wimpole [23:05]
James PAISIBLE (c.1656-1721)
Sonata in D major [4:37]
James HAWKINS (1662-1729)
Blessed be the God and Father
Eboracum Baroque/Christopher Parsons
rec. date and venue not given
Private Release [68:23]

If you know Wimpole, a few miles to the south-west of Cambridge, you may have visited the estate which is now in the hands of the National Trust. You may also have been in the parish church of St. Andrew next door. As it happens I was there only recently and was pleased that the Victorian restoration, which so marred Henry Childs' original design of 1749, was not as pronounced as I had once felt even if few of the original fittings survive. Don’t get confused as I did: the church is next to the house but the house itself dates from 1640. This music is from the early years of the following century and was in fact written for the house’s private chapel. Very beautiful the chapel is too with, unlike the aforementioned parish church, much of its original décor.

Lord Edward Harley took possession of the Wimpole Estate in 1713 and the following year, to quote the useful booklet essay by ensemble director Chris Parsons “appointed Thomas Tudway to collate two large volumes of English Church Music for the library…” This music stretched over a period of 150 years and incorporated 85 different composers, some almost unknown. Eventually there were six volumes “reaching almost 3,000 pages in length”. Included in these volumes were pieces by Tudway, James Hawkins, organist of Ely Cathedral and even Handel. When the chapel was finished, Tudway was “commissioned to compose music ‘for the opening the Ld. Harley’s Chapell at Wimpole in 1721.’”

The pieces in question recorded here are the Wimpole Te Deum and Jubilate. Both were written on a grand and serious scale - as were French settings of the period like those of Lully. They are in effect verse anthems with trumpet and oboe as well as strings and continuo (chamber organ) and must have formed a part of some kind of choral matins. These pieces top and tail the recording. It was also especially pleasing to hear Tudway’s beautiful I will lift up mine eyes - a setting of Psalm 121 which would also make sense in the context of the consecration service.

The reason for Tudway being in this out-of-the-way corner of Cambridgeshire may well be due to an unfortunate incident when, it is said, he made disparaging remarks about Queen Anne. He made no further attempt at acquiring a court appointment but he did write in 1706 Hail Happy day as an “apologetic birthday ode … after Tudway had been stripped of his titles (he was Professor of Music) in Cambridge”. Birthday Odes are never very exciting and this one less so than usual. However the level of musical inspiration otherwise is often high. Tudway was a boy at the Chapel Royal under Henry Purcell and at times also deploys a ground bass although he rarely does much with it.

It's worth adding at this point that Andrew Gant in his new book ‘O Sing Unto the Lord - A History of English Church Music’ (Profile Books, London 2015) describes Tudway’s music as “boring” (p.230) but then he has not had the benefit of hearing these performances.

The National Trust, along with the Arts Council of England and the Handel House have contributed towards the making of this fascinating disc. The music is almost entirely unknown even to those whose business is church music. So what do we know about this mysterious Tudway and indeed about James Hawkins and James Paisible? The neglect of 18th century English music is regrettable if understandable with seemingly few figures of originality or interest other than Boyce, Arne and Maurice Greene.

I especially enjoyed the vitality and part writing and particularly the closing fugal writing of Hawkins’ Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. Both Tudway and Hawkins were Cambridge men the latter at St. Johns before he moved to Ely. Their style lies, not surprisingly, somewhere between Purcell and Handel. Tudway, like Purcell, likes to end phrases and indeed entire pieces on chords without a third. This happens for example in O how amiable are thy dwellings. James Paisible was French but made his name in London and would have been well known to Tudway. His Sonata in D has been included to act as an overture to The Birthday Ode.

Eboracum Baroque consist of nine voices, a string orchestra including a bass viol and theorbo, a chamber organ played by either Peter Holman or Tom Nichol, an oboe and a trumpet as mentioned. The voices have a mostly fresh and vibrant feel with predominantly excellent intonation. The instrumental work is neat and beautifully appropriate and in style.

The disc’s presentation is very attractive with the booklet in a slim cardboard casing, which is adorned with a painting by Sir James Thornhill found in the chapel. There are inside photos of the house and the parish church. All of the texts are given but you won’t really need to refer to them because the diction is always reliable and clear. On the whole the balance is dependable. It seems that St. Andrew’s Church may have been the recording venue. Its acoustic is a little lacking in air and at times feels congested.

These are only minor points. This is rare music and well worth hearing although it seems to me doubtful if there will be any chance of ever hearing it again outside this CD.

Gary Higginson



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