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"Harry Our King - Music for King Henry VIII Tudor"

Charles Daniels, tenor
Capella de la Torre
Dir: Katharina Bäuml

rec: Oct 11 - 14, 2011, Anhausen, Kloster Anhausen (church)
Carpe Diem - CD-16292 (© 2012) (70'07")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

anon: Adieu madame ma maistresse; And I were a maiden; England be glad; Fortune my foe; If love now reigned; Jay pryse amours; La doune cella; Nil maius superi vident; Pray we to God a 3; The hunt is up; Antoine BUSNOYS (c1432-1492): Fortune esperée; William BYRD (1543-1623): Fortune my foe; William CORNYSH (1465-1523): A robyn, gentyl robyn a 3; Blow thi horne hunter a 3; Claude GERVAISE (1510-1588): Pavan & Galiarde La Battaglia; HENRY VIII (1491-1547): Gentil Prince de renom; Green groweth the holly; Helas Madame; Pastime with good company; Taunder naken; Johannes OCCKEGHEM (c1410-1497): Missa pro defunctis (Introitus); Philippe VERDELOT (1480-1562): Sancta Maria a 6

Hildegard Wippermann, recorder, shawm; Regina Hahnke, recorder, dulcian; Katharina Bäuml, shawm; Jeremy West, cornett; Detlef Reimers, sackbut; Johannes Vogt, lute; Peter A. Bauer, percussion

Henry VIII is one of the key figures in English history. He is also one of the more repulsive characters in history, and his bad reputation has overshadowed the fact that he was highly educated and an avid lover of music. Under his reign the number of musicians connected to the court grew constantly, and he invited various musicians from abroad to join his chapel. Among them was the Bassano family, a dynasty of wind players. Especially since Henry's time music for an ensemble of instruments - a consort - became increasingly popular.

Unfortunately relatively little music which was performed at the court has been preserved. It was only in 1530 that music printing was introduced in England and many manuscripts were probably destroyed during the fire in the Whitehall Palace in 1698. One of the main sources is the so-called Henry VIII manuscript which was compiled around 1518 and includes 109 vocal and instrumental pieces. Some of the finest composers of the time are represented, such as William Cornysh and Robert Fayrfax, but also composers from the continent, like Isaac, Busnoys and Compère. The manuscript also includes various pieces which are attributed to Henry VIII himself, although there always have been doubts whether he has written all those pieces himself. There can be little doubt, though, that he was an accomplished musician as he sang and was able to play various instruments.

This disc certainly delivers a nice picture of Henry and his musical world. Thematical discs such as this also guarantee a good amount of variety, with instrumental and vocal items, and both sacred and secular music. However, like I wrote in my review of a disc with music connected to Nuremberg Katharina Bäuml has too little discipline in the selection of the music. It is rather odd to play pieces which were written well after Henry's death. William Byrd was born only about four years before Henry's death; so why play his variations on Fortune my foe? The performance of a keyboard piece with wind instruments as here is up to debate as well. The pieces by Claude Gervaise were also written after Henry's death.

That said, the performances are more satisfying than at the Nuremberg disc. The playing is much better, and the collaboration with Charles Daniels bears better fruits than that with Dominique Visse, partly because Daniels' voice blends much better with the wind instruments. In my view he is the main asset of this recording: he is a truly great artist who seems always to find the right approach to the repertoire he takes on. It is remarkable how he is able to adapt his voice to the character of the various pieces in the programme. He also uses different pronunciations which seem all based on what is known about the way English was spoken in the time of Henry VIII.

Unfortunately the booklet is a bit sloppy. The lyrics of three vocal items are not printed in the booklet (tracks 10, 11 and 20), the text of Cornyshe's Ah Robin, gentle Robin is incomplete and several other items include various errors. The booklet includes the text of Fortune esperée by Busnoys, but that piece is performed instrumentally.

All in all, this is an interesting and musically largely satisfying recording. Obviously the picture is a little one-sided, because of the line-up of the ensemble. The consort music which was an important aspect of musical life at Henry's court is not represented. Some years ago a fine disc with music for recorder consort was released by Ramée, played by Mezzaluna under the direction of Peter Van Heyghen. I also would like to mention two discs with music associated with Henry VIII, by the ensembles Alamire and Magdala respectively, both directed by David Skinner.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Capella de la Torre

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