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A Rose Magnificat
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Of a rose is all my song [5:55]
Thomas TALLIS (c 1505-1585)
Videte miraculum [8:50]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
As dew in Aprylle [1:41]
Robert WHITE (c 1538-1574)
Magnificat [11:57]
James MacMILLAN (b. 1959)
Ave maris stella [4:37]
John SHEPPARD (c 1515 – 1558)
Ave maris stella [5:03]
Owain PARK (b. 1993)
Ave maris stella [4:41]
Robert WYLKYNSON c 1450-1515)
Salve regina [16:17]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Salve regina [5:33]
Jonathan LANE (b. 1958)
There is no rose [2:51]
Matthew MARTIN (b. 1976)
A Rose Magnificat [10:24]
Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh
rec. 2017, Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, UK
Texts & English translations included

For his latest Gabrieli Consort album Paul McCreesh has devised an intriguing programme. The composers – all English – are drawn either from the ranks of the Tudor polyphonists or are from the present or twentieth centuries. The pieces all set texts in praise of the Blessed Virgin from medieval sources.

Apparently, the programme took quite some time to devise but it works brilliantly. It is almost as if McCreesh designed his programme like some great medieval church nave. Central to the design are the three extended pieces by Tallis, White and Wylkynson, which act as pillars with the shorter pieces almost like votive chapels off to the sides.

Those three great Tudor musical pillars all receive very fine performances. McCreesh’s view of Tallis’s sublime Videte miraculum is rather different to the conception offered by Stile Antico. Their rapt, expansive performance takes 11:39 and emphasises a sense of awe and mystery. McCreesh’s account, which plays for nearly three minutes less, has a greater sense of forward momentum; perhaps he’s seeking to convey the joy of Mary as a new mother. If you think the Stile Antico performance is too romantic – and I can understand why some might think that – then McCreesh may be more to your taste. I love the Stile Antico performance (review) but I admire this new Gabrieli account also. Robert White’s Magnificat is an elaborate piece, the polyphony rich; McCreesh paces his excellent performance quite urgently but still allows the music the time it needs in which to breathe and flower. Robert Wylkynson’s Salve regina is an amazing musical construction in which tropes in honour of the Virgin are interpolated into the text of the familiar antiphon. The tropes are sung by a small consort of solo voices but the polyphonic sections of the antiphon itself are composed in no less than nine parts. Wylkynson displays great compositional virtuosity and the Gabrieli Consort singers are no less virtuosic in their delivery of the music.

Most of the other pieces are on a smaller scale but no less effective for that. It was very clever to follow Wylkynson’s highly elaborate Salve regina with Howells’ 1915 setting. Despite the richness of the harmonic language it seems to me that in this relatively early piece, written, I think, for R R Terry and the Westminster Cathedral choir, Howells is looking back to Tudor motets. It’s a gorgeous piece and beautifully done here.

The three settings of Ave maris stella complement each other adroitly. James MacMillan’s is deceptively simple in utterance; for one thing, the sopranos sing on just one note almost to the end of the piece while the other parts add harmonic interest below. That simplicity is surprisingly effective and when the much more complex, soaring ‘Amen’ is heard at the end the contrast is very well made. Owain Park’s setting is described by McCreesh in the booklet as “basically just scales, where a simple change of interval can determine where the music goes.” Of course, the music is much more sophisticated than that; I found it a most interesting piece. And it’s very good to hear John Sheppard’s response to the same text from Tudor times in between these two contemporary pieces.

There’s another cunning piece of programme planning at the end. Jonathan Lane sets the familiar fifteenth century English text, There is no rose with a solo quartet singing the Latin words with which each verse closes. It’s a lovely little piece and here it acts as an ideal precursor to Matthew Martin’s new work, which gives the album its title. Martin sets the Latin Canticle but weaves into his setting the words of There is no rose. Martin comments in the booklet that in the past he’s often felt constrained in what he composes by the limitations of the intended performers. Here, invited to write for a choir of crack professionals, he was let off the leash, you might say. The result is a composition which must have challenged even these expert singers. Martin’s choral textures are consistently intriguing and inventive – he makes considerable use of soloists from within the choir – and he really throws down the gauntlet to the choir, both rhythmically and harmonically. The complexities of the section beginning “Fecit potentiam” is a prime example of the challenging writing. Of course, McCreesh and his singers surmount all these challenges and give a terrific account of what is a most original piece.

Throughout this programme the singing of the Gabrieli Consort is of the exalted standard one has come to associate with them. The choir numbers 24 (6 voices per part) though two extra sopranos are drafted in for the Matthew Martin piece. The recording was made in the large and probably quite resonant acoustic of the nave in Romsey Abbey but engineer Neil Hutchinson and producer Adrian Peacock have captured the voices with great clarity in an excellent recording.

The accompanying documentation includes all the texts and translations, clearly set out as is usual with Winged Lion productions and the notes consist of an interesting three-way discussion between Paul McCreesh, Matthew Martin and Jeremy Summerly.

This most desirable release is an absorbing addition to the Gabrieli’s discography.

John Quinn

Previous review: Brian Wilson


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