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William BYRD & Peter PHILIPS: "Adoramus te - Motets, songs and consort music"

Clare Wilkinson, mezzo-sopranoa
The Rose Consort of Viols

rec: Nov 19 - 21, 2012, Forde Abbey (Dorset, UK)
Deux-Elles - DXL 1155 ( 2014) (72'41")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

William BYRD (c1540-1623): Adoramus te, Christe a 5a [4]; Ah silly soul a 6a [5]; Attollite portas a 6a [1]; Constant Penelope a 5a [2]; Domine secundum actum meum a 6a [1]; Haec dicit Dominus a 5a [3]; How vain the toils a 6a [5]; With lilies white a 5a; Wretched Albinus a 5a; Peter PHILIPS (c1560-1628): Ego sum panis/Et panis quem a 5a [6]; Fantazia No. 1 a 6; Fantazia No. 2 a 6; Pater noster a 5a [6]; Passamezzo Pavan; Pavana & Galliardo (arr. Andrew Kerr); Pavana & Galiarda Dolorosa; Trio in the 1st modea [7]; Trio in the 3rd modea [7]; Viae Sion lugent a 5a [6]

Sources: [1] Thomas Tallis/William Byrd, Tallis/Byrd, Cantiones, quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, 1575; William Byrd, [2] Psalmes, Sonets and Songs, 1588; [3] Liber secundus sacrarum cantionum (Cantiones Sacrae II), 1591 [4] Gradualia ac cantiones sacrae, 1605; [5] Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets ... fit for Voyces or Viols, 1611; [6] Peter Philips, Cantiones sacrae, pro praecipuis festis totius anni et communi sanctorum, 1612; [7] Salomon de Caus, Institution harmonique, II, 1615

Ibi Aziz, John Bryan, Alison Crum, Andrew Kerr, Roy Marks, Peter Wendland, viola da gamba

This disc brings together two composers who were contemporaries, although of different generations: Philips was probably a pupil of Byrd for some time. The main thing they had in common was that they were both staunch Catholics in a time when England was dominated by Protestantism. They dealt with this situation differently. Byrd spent his entire life in his home country, whereas Philips moved to the continent. He first spent some years in Rome, and then worked in the southern Netherlands which were under Spanish rule. His years in Rome had considerable influence on his style of composing. There are strong traces of the Italian style of his time, for instance that of Luca Marenzio who was one of the leading composers of madrigals.

Byrd also wrote secular music, but no madrigals and certainly nothing on Italian texts. It was especially the genre of the consort song which is well represented in his oeuvre. This disc includes several specimens. Some were written for a specific occasion, such as Wretched Albinus which is connected to the death of the Earl of Essex. It is one of the pieces in which Byrd's religious and political position shines through. The interesting thing about this disc is that several of Byrd's motets are performed here with one voice and a consort of viols. This practice was not uncommon at the time and reflects the domestic use of religious music. It could well be closer to the way Byrd's religious music was performed in his own time than modern interpretations by, for instance, cathedral choirs. Byrd's sacred works were mostly performed in secret Catholic services, probably rather small venues, and possibly by only a few singers. There is also evidence for such performances in Byrd's oeuvre: in Adoramus te, Christe only one of the parts has a text. Atollite portas seems a little less suitable to this approach as it mainly consists of duets, meaning that here the voice is paired to an instrument.

Philips is represented with some of his best instrumental pieces. The Pavana which opens the programme was included in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and called "the first that Philips made". It is transcribed for viol consort here by Andrew Kerr following many examples from the composer's own time. It was very common to combine a pavan and a galliard; that is also the case here, but the galliard is thematically not related to the pavan. That is different with the Pavana & Galiarda Dolorosa which is remarkable for its harmonic progressions. One of the most popular forms of consort music was the fantasia, mostly called fancy. It seems that Philips never composed any fantasias. The two recorded here are in fact transcriptions of sections from an Italian madrigal. That comes to the fore in their lively rhythms. The programme includes two trios which are taken from a treatise published in Germany in 1615. They were included in that book to illustrate the then common theories about the characters of the different modes. Here they are performed as introductions to the respective motets which follow them. These bear the traces of the Italian influence in his oeuvre and include some madrigalisms, but they are more modest in this respect than some other motets he has written.

One interesting aspect of these performances is the use of a historical pronunciation. I use the indefinite article on purpose, because there was no single pronunciation at the time. I have heard recordings where it was different in some respects. Here it is not restricted to the pieces in English, but also used in the Latin items. The opening of Haec dicit Dominus sounds very different from what we are used to. One could argue that this is probably less appropriate in Philips' motets as they were published in Antwerp. However, there is evidence that his music was performed back home, and that could justify this practice. Obviously the use of historical pronunciation is especially important in songs where words are supposed to rhyme and where they only do in historical pronunciation. However, it seems to me that it is of general importance as I can't see any reason why one should bother about historical instruments and ways of playing and singing and at the same time ignore the way words were pronounced.

This is just one aspect which makes this disc a real asset. The second is the different way motets are performed. We know most of them pretty well in recordings by choirs and vocal ensembles, but here we hear them differently. It not only sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of the performance practice of the decades around 1600, but also makes us listen to these works anew. The interpretations are pretty much ideal. Clare Wilkinson has the perfect voice for this repertoire. She sings without vibrato, in an almost instrumental way, and her voice blends perfectly with the viols. In this music the singer is not so much a soloist but rather one instrument in the ensemble, and that is exactly how Ms Wilkinson sings. The Rose Consort of Viols plays excellently; the two pairs of pavans and galliards are just two fine examples of their art.

This disc deserves special attention for several reasons: the repertoire, the performance practice and the overall level of interpretation.

Johan van Veen ( 2015)

Relevant links:

Clare Wilkinson
The Rose Consort of Viols


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