musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Coronation Music for Charles II"

Oltremontano; Psallentes
Dir: Wim Becu

rec: July 11 - 17, 2014, Beaufays, Église Saint-Jean l'Évangéliste Chaudfontaine
Accent - ACC 24300 (© 2015) (66'36")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
[Charles II enters London] Robert PARSONS (c1535-1571/72): The song called trumpets; Marin MERSENNE (1588-1648) (ed): L'Entrée - A Cheval - Cavalcade & Double Cavalcade - La Retraite*
[Procession past the triumphal arches] Matthew LOCKE (1621/22-1677): For His Majesty's Sagbuts and Cornetts
[The Coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey] Girolamo FANTINI (1600-1675): Entrata imperiale*; William CHILD (1606-1697): O Lord, grant the King a long life; William BYRD (c1543-1623): In Nomine a 5; Pelham HUMFREY (1647-1674): The King shall rejoice; William BYRD: Miserere a 4; Pelham HUMFREY: Te Deum
[soundscape: "The King"- Bells of Westminster Abbey]
[A royal musical banquet] Augustine BASSANO (c1526-1604): Pavana à 5; Galiarda à 5; Pavana à 5; Galiarda & Coranto (arr Peter PHILIPS, c1560-1628); William LAWES (1602-1645): Fantazia 2 à 6; Augustine BASSANO: Pavan à 6 (arr Peter Holman); anon: Almand à 6 (arr Peter Holman); William BYRD: Browning à 5 'The leaves be green'
[Masquing Ayres] John ADSON (c1587-1640): Courtly Masquing Ayres à 5 for Cornets and Sagbuts (No. 19; No. 20; No. 21)
(*) including soundscape

[Psallentes] Kerlijne Van Nevel, Veerle Van Roosbroeck, soprano; Jonathan De Ceuster, Bart Uvin, alto; Gunter Claessens, Laurens Alexander Wyns, tenor; Philippe Souvagie, Hendrik Vanden Abeele, baritone; Conor Biggs, Pieter Coene, bass
[Oltremontano] Doron David Sherwin, cornett, tamborino; Josue Melendez, Adam Woolf, Robert Schlegl, Adam Bregman, sackbut, trumpet; Wim Becu, sackbut, trumpet, drum; Frank Liégeois, cister; Bart Rodyns, organ; Marnix De Cat, percussion

Before the time when music became Art it was very much part of everyday life. No major event could take place without it. That also went for the private life of members of the social elite as well as for that of monarchs and aristocrats. There were many opportunities for the performance of music, such as births, marriages, funerals and namedays or birthdays. In addition there were major state events, such as those to mark peace treaties and coronations. One of the latter is the subject of the present disc.

One would like to know exactly which music was performed at such occasions. However, even when we have some information about the way an event was celebrated, we seldom know which compositions were performed, when they were performed and how. Any 'reconstruction' of the musical part of such events has to be highly speculative. The present programme of music for the coronation of Charles II is no exception.

Charles returned to England from his exile in France in 1660 which marked the end of the Commonwealth and the beginning of the Restoration. On 23 April 1661 Charles was crowned in Westminster Abbey. The only piece which is specifically connected to Charles' coronation is the music Matthew Locke wrote For His Majesty's Sagbuts and Cornetts. The autograph of this suite indicates that it is dedicated to the coronation of Charles, but exactly when it was performed - or even if it was performed during the celebrations - is unknown. The anthem O Lord, grant the King a long life by William Child has the addition "at the Restoration", but that in itself doesn't justify the statement in the booklet that is was sung during the coronation celebrations.

Otherwise these liner-notes reflect the amount of insecurity about what was actually performed, as is expressed in words like "probably" and "could have". Even if one accepts a strong degree of speculation, the choice of some pieces is not very plausible. That goes especially for the two items by Pelham Humfrey. He was just fourteen years of age when the coronation took place, and his music can't have been performed at the occasion. His anthem The King shall rejoice was written for Charles's birthday, probably in 1669. It is also questionable whether pieces from France (the collection of Mersenne) or by an Italian composer such as Girolamo Fantini were performed.

Another item is the scoring. All the instrumental pieces are played with cornetts and sackbuts or by trumpets, sometimes with percussion. Matthew Locke's suite is one of the few pieces specifically intended for the traditional combination of cornetts and sackbuts. The same goes for three ayres by John Adson. Otherwise we hear specimens of consort music which were intended in the first place for viols, with violins, recorders or a 'mixed consort' as alternatives. Cornetts and sackbuts cannot be excluded: in the first collection of instrumental music printed in England, Anthony Holborne's Pavans, Galliards, Almains etc of 1599, wind instruments were mentioned as an option. However, these were mostly played outdoors, and therefore the performance of instrumental pieces by Bassano, Lawes and Byrd during "A royal musical banquet" as the tracklist indicates, is questionable.

These instruments also participated in the Royal Chapel where they played colla parte with the voices. How often that happened is impossible to say, but it seems plausible that they would have been used during festive occasions such as a coronation. There is pictorial evidence of their participation during the coronation of James II in 1685. On the other hand, their role seems to have diminished after the mid-17th century. Humfrey's anthem is scored for voices, two violins, viola and bc, and I do wonder about the justification for playing them on cornetts instead.

The liner-notes mention the participation of the 24 Violins, an ensemble which had been founded after Charles's return to England, as he had been impressed by the 24 Violons du Roy he had become acquainted with in France. The use of only wind instruments in this recording makes this view on the musical part of the celebrations rather one-sided. Moreover, the vocal ensemble here comprises just ten singers, far in number than the choirs of the Royal Chapel and of Westminster Abbey which were both involved in the coronation events.

One could get the impression that this is a bad recording. That is not the case - far from it. I very much like the performances. The singing is excellent and the playing simply brilliant. Oltremontano is one of the best ensembles of this kind around. The music never disappoints: every single piece is well worth listening to. It is just that a programme like this shows how hard it is to give a fair impression of the musical part of celebrations such as the coronation of an English monarch. The fact that the choice of music has to be partly speculative is no problem. However, the selection of music should at least be plausible, and as I have argued some of this programme is not. That should not discourage anyone from enjoying this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:


CD Reviews