musica Dei donum

CD reviews

English Consort Music

[I] Christopher TYE: "In Nomine - Works for Recorder Consort"
Boreas Quartett Bremen, Han Tol
rec: Oct 4 - 6, 2013, Bremen, Radio Bremen (Sendesaal)
CPO - 777 897-2 (© 2015) (61'59")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores In Nomines

John TAVERNER (c1490-1545): In nomine; Christopher TYE: Amavit eum Dominusb; Christus resurgensb; Dum transisset Sabbatum IIb; Dum transisset Sabbatum IIIb; In nomine a 4; In nomine a 5b; In nomine a 6ab; In nomine: Beleve meb; In nomine: Blamlesb; In nomine: Cryeb; In nomine: Farewell my good 1. for everb; In nomine: Follow meb; In nomine: Free from allb; In nomine: Howld fastb; In nomine: I comeb; In nomine: My deathe beddeb; In nomine: Rachell's Weepingeb; In nomine: Re la reb; In nomine: Reporteb; In nomine: Roundb; In nomine: Saye sob; In nomine: Seldome seneb; In nomine: Surrexit non est hicb; In nomine: Trustb; In nomine: Weepe no moore Rachellb; Lawdes Deob; O lux beata Trinitasb; Rubum quemb

Jin-Ju Boek, Elisabeth Champollion, Julia Fritz, Luise Manske, recorder
Annette Johna, Han Tolb, recorder

[II] "Sweet melancholy - Works for viol consort from Byrd to Purcell"
Cellini Consort
rec: April 24 - 26, 2015, Zurich, Radiostudio SRF
Coviello Classics - COV 91604 (© 2016) (59'13")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

William BYRD (1540-1623): Fantasia a 3 No. 1; Fantasia a 3 No. 2; Fantasia a 3 No. 3; Giovanni COPERARIO (c1570-1626): Fantasia a 2; Fantasia a 3; Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625): Fantasia a 2; Fantasia a 3; Fantasia a 3; John HINGESTON (c1606-1683): Almand; Almand; Fantasia; Matthew LOCKE (1621-1677): Fantasia a 2; Fantasia a 2; Saraband a 2; Suite No. 2; Thomas LUPO (1571-1627): Fantasia; Fantasia; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Fantazia I a 3 in d minor (Z 732); Fantazia II a 3 in F (Z 733); Fantazia III a 3 in g minor (Z 734); Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656): Fantasia; In nomine

Tore Eketorp; Brian Franklin, Thomas Goetschel, viola da gamba

[III] Henry PURCELL: "Fantazias & In nomines"
Sit Fast
rec: August 2011, Chalencon, Temple Protestant
Eloquentia - EL 1549 (© 2015) (66'46")
Liner-notes: E/F/J
Cover, track-list & booklet

Fantasia I a 3 in d minor (Z 732); Fantasia II a 3 in F (Z 733); Fantasia III a 3 in g minor (Z 734); Fantasia IV a 4 in g minor (Z 735); Fantasia V a 4 in B flat (Z 736); Fantasia VI a 4 in F (Z 737); Fantasia VII a 4 in c minor (Z 738); Fantasia VIII a 4 in d minor (Z 739); Fantasia IX a 4 in a minor (Z 740); Fantasia X a 4 in e minor (Z 741); Fantasia XI a 4 in G (Z 742); Fantasia XII a 4 in d minor (Z 743); Fantasia a 4 in a minor (inc.) (Z 744); Fantasia upon one note in F (d minor) (Z 745); In nomine I a 6 in g minor (Z 746); In nomine II a 7 in d minor (Z 747)

Atushi Sakaļ, Isabelle Saint Yves, Thomas de Pierrefeu, Joshua Cheatham, viola da gamba
with: Nicholas Milne, Christine Plubeau, Kaori Uemura, viola da gamba

Without any doubt consort music was one of the most popular forms of instrumental music in the renaissance. It was one of the few genres which was originally conceived for instruments whereas otherwise instrumental ensembles mostly performed vocal music which was either played as written or adapted to the various instruments. Consort music was written and played across Europe but in England it was probably more popular than anywhere else. It certainly held its prominent place in musical life much longer than elsewhere. It was introduced in England under the reign of Henry VIII (1491-1547) and the last consort music was written by Henry Purcell (1659-1695). During that period of about 150 years one genre of consort music took a prominent position: the In nomine.

New Grove has this to say about the In nomine: "Title given to a number of exclusively English instrumental compositions of the 16th and 17th centuries that use the Sarum antiphon Gloria tibi Trinitas as their cantus firmus. The In Nomine was the most conspicuous single form in the early development of English consort music, over 150 examples surviving by some 58 composers from Taverner to Purcell." One of the main contributors to this genre was Christopher Tye: his oeuvre includes 35 pieces for consort, and no fewer than 24 of these are In nomines. One may think that this leads to a certain uniformity. That is certainly not the case. The subject of the In nomine is treated very differently. Some pieces have a solemn character which refers to the sacred origin of the subject but others are lively and sparkling. Several have an additional title which is mostly impossible to decode by modern interpreters. Some of these titles suggest religious connotations, such as Rachell's Weepinge and Weepe no more Rachell which certainly refer to the well-known episode in the gospel after Matthew, known as the Massacre of the Innocents. Here the prophet Jeremiah is quoted: "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not." (ch 31, vs 15; King James Bible).

Fairly recently I reviewed a recording of the same repertoire by the viol consort The Spirit of Gambo. It seems reasonable to assume that this music - as most consort music of the English renaissance - was originally intended for a consort of viols. However, the existence of consorts of other instruments - recorders or violins - is documented and therefore a performance on recorders is fully legitimate. The difference between recorders and viols could partly explain why the tempi in the present recording are generally faster than in The Spirit of Gambo's performance. There is also a difference in regard to dynamics: viols allow for a larger dynamic shading than recorders and are also more expressive by nature. That is especially notable in pieces such as Rachell's Weepinge. These differences are not a matter of better or worse: a performance on recorders offers a different perspective. Considering that Tye's consort music is not that often performed one can only be happy that a large part of it is now available in two recordings which are different in character but equal in quality. The Boreas Quartett Bremen and Han Tol deliver performances which are as good as one would wish.

Tye is one of the early representatives of composers for consort. The Cellini Consort focuses on music of a later period: mainly the first half of the 17th century. At that time consort music was on the brink of disappearance in most parts of Europe. It was the time of the seconda prattica; one of its features was the writing of virtuosic music for solo instruments. That tendency reached England and we can see that influence in the music for solo viol by Christopher Simpson. But at the same time the traditional music for a consort of instruments, dominated by counterpoint, held its ground. It was especially after the Restoration (1660) that the baroque style gradually surpassed the stile antico, partly due to the preferences of Charles II who was impressed by what he had heard during his exile in France.

The decades around 1600 were the time of melancholy, a fashionable state of mind which is expressed in many pieces for viols, most impressively in Dowland's Lachrimae. The title "Sweet melancholy" is well chosen, even if the titles of the pieces in the programme don't expressly refer to melancholy. The In nomines by Tye are all in five parts - except a couple in four and six respectively - but the scoring of consort music could vary from two to six. In the programme which the Cellini Consort recorded all the pieces are in two or three parts. Pieces on the In nomine subject were still frequently written but the players decided to include just one by Thomas Tomkins; maybe most other settings are for a larger scoring. It is rather the fantasia - often called fancy - which is the core of the programme. The booklet quoted Thomas Morley who in his treatise A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1597) presents the fantasia as "the most principal and chiefest kind of [instrumental] music. (...) In this may more art be shown than in any other music because the composer is tied to nothing, but that he may add, dimimish and alter at his pleasure". The fantasias of this time include more contrasts between the various sections, although there is little similarity with the stylus phantasticus which came into existence in Italy in the early 17th century. "The call on the part of Italian composers to ignite the passion of the audience was also taken up in England and implemented in the music of the time", according to the liner-notes. That is certainly the case with Purcell but not with Locke who in fact resisted any influence from abroad. Chromaticism and dissonants ('false relations') were very much part of English music of the stile antico. And even Purcell's fantasias are rooted in that tradition rather than attached to modern Italian music.

It is a shame that this disc is so poorly documented. The track-list in the header is all the booklet has to offer. That makes it impossible to identify individual pieces and check whether these are new to the catalogue. Fortunately that is compensated by fine performances of three players of different generations who have managed to find common ground, delivering an incisive interpretation of this compelling repertoire. This is their debut on disc; may many more follow.

The third disc then is entirely devoted to the consort music of Purcell. It belongs to the most intriguing part of his oeuvre. He composed this music when he was 21 and in the early stages of his career. Why exactly he decided to pay attention to a genre which had become largely obsolete is not known. It seems that these pieces were not intended to be performed. They were never published and have come down to us in the form of a score rather than parts which is quite unusual for the time they were written.

At the time of composing Purcell also studied and copied anthems from the time before the Commonwealth period. Therefore it seems likely that the Fantazias are part of his attempts to master the art of a glorious past. The fact that the manuscript includes some blank pages suggests that he was planning to extend this part of his oeuvre. The two In nomines also refer to the past. It is telling that the author Roger North who knew Purcell personally was not aware of his consort music. He stated that Matthew Locke's Consort of Four Parts of 1659 were the last of this kind and that John Jenkins - his teacher - was the last composer of In nomines. It is understandable that Atsushi Sakaļ, in the liner-notes of Sit Fast's recording of Purcell's consort music, compares it with Bach's Kunst der Fuge which also probably was never performed and maybe not even intended for performance.

North's mention of Matthew Locke is very relevant here because he was a self-willed composer whose harmonic language was quite unusual for his time. Purcell is clearly influenced by him; he commemorated Locke in the elegy What hope for us remains now he is gone?. It is Locke rather than the Italian music of his time which has made its mark in Purcell's consort music. Especially most of the four-part Fantazias include modulations and an amount of chromaticism and harmonic experiments which is unique for the time. Maybe we find here another parallel with Bach: a tradition comes to its climax. Where to go from here? The only way forward is to break new ground.

The expressive features of this consort music are impressively laid out here by Sit Fast. In comparison to some other recordings in my collection the tempi are slowish. Most four-part Fantazias take over five minutes whereas Fretwork and London Baroque (the latter with violins in the upper parts) need less than four minutes. But I never had the feeling that these tempi are too slow. Sit Fast dwells on the harmonic tension these pieces include but as far as I am concerned not in a too demonstrative way. These performances sound very natural. This is a recording to which I shall return when I want to listen to these "living fossils" (David Pinto).

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Boreas Quartett Bremen
Cellini Consort
Sit Fast

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