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"The Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal"

The Gents (Peter Dijkstra) a; Diapente Viol Consort b; Siebe Henstra, organ c
rec: May, 2002, The Hague, Oud-Katholieke Kerk
Channel Classics - CCS SA 18902 (75'35")

John Bennet: Eliza, her name gives honour b,d; William Byrd: Ave verum corpus a; A Fancie in C (from: Mye Ladye Nevells Booke) c; William Cornysh: Ave Maria, mater Dei a; Alfonso Ferrabosco I: Lamentatationes Jeremiae a; Alfonso Ferrabosco II: In depth no man remembreth Thee a; Edward Johnson: Eliza is the fairest Queen b,e,f; Anthony Holborne: The Honi-suckle b; Paradiso b; The Sighes b; Robert Parsons: Ave Maria a; Credo quod Redemptor a; Thomas Tallis: Miserere nostri a; Salvator mundi a; Thomas Tomkins: Remember me, O Lord a; Thomas Weelkes: Deliver us, O Lord a; Lord, to Thee I make my moan a; Robert Whyte: Christe, qui lux es et dies a / b

Benjamin Bakker d, Johan van Beijeren, Robert Kuizenga e, Niec van der Meulen f, alto; Joost Heutink, Joost van der Linden, Luigi Orsini, Dennis van der Veen, tenor; Gerben Bos, Alberta de Jong, Eduard Walda, baritone; Henk van Essen, Arnoldus Scharft, Jeroen Vreugdenhil, bass
Susanne Braumann, treble viol; Geneviève Bégou, Maaike Boekholt, tenor viol; Christine Kyprianides, bass viol; Jean-Paul Everts, violone

This recording delivers an interesting overview of the music which was performed in England in the second half of the 16th century. It was called the 'Elizabethan era', in which Queen Elizabeth I was reigning. Her central position, not only politically, but also culturally, is reflected by the two consort songs recorded here, both referring to the 'Virgin Queen'.
The religious pieces are either on Latin or on English texts and are a token of the fact that at this time England was in the middle of a transition from the Roman-Catholic to an independent, at least liturgically protestant church. At the court both kinds of liturgical music were performed. That's why motets with texts like Ave Maria (Parsons) and anthems like Remember me, O Lord (Tomkins) on a text from Psalm 106 are both appearing on this CD.
Characteristic for the English music scene was the viol consort. Not only purely instrumental music was performed, vocal works could also be played. Robert Whyte's Christe, qui lux es et dies is performed here twice, in the original vocal form, and with viols (in the instrumental version the plainchant verses are left out). And there was music for keyboard, of course. William Byrd was one of the most important composers of keyboard works, a number of which are in Mye Ladye Nevell's Booke.

'The Gents' is an ensemble of male voices from the Netherlands. Most of its members have had their first musical education in the Roden Boys' Choir, which is modelled after British cathedral choirs. It is no surprise, then, that their first recording is devoted to English music of the renaissance. During their time in the choir they have got a vast experience with this kind of music. And it shows. They sound like a British vocal ensemble - almost. The difference is - at least that is my impression - that the sound is a little deeper, darker, more resonant. That could be the result of the constellation of the ensemble, with only four altos to 4 tenors, 3 baritones and 3 basses. I like the sound which is less 'upper voice dominated' than that of some British ensembles. And there are no wobbly low voices as some British ensembles have. The blending of the voices is superb.
The resonant sound of the vocal ensemble is reflected in the viol consort: it produces a warmer and fuller sound than British consorts. In particular the instrumental performance of Robert Whyte's Christe, qui lux es et dies is impressive. In the two consort songs three altos from the choir are singing the solo parts. They do that well technically, but the interpretation could have been a little more colourful.
I would have liked more lesser-known works on this CD. It contains too many frequently recorded pieces. Another reason for criticism is the Italian pronunciation of Latin texts and the modern pronunciation of English texts. Unfortunately too many musicians and ensembles don't realise the importance of a proper pronunciation of texts of the past.
Nevertheless, this is a very nice portrait of the music scene at the English court during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

Relevant links:

The Gents
Channel Classics

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