musica Dei donum
Thomas Tomkins: "Above the starrs: Verse anthems & consort music"
Emma Kirkby, soprano a;
Catherine King, contralto b;
Charles Daniels, tenor c;
Donald Greig, baritone d;
Jonathan Arnold e, Richard Wistreich f, bass
rec: June 12 - 15, 2002, Orford, Suffolk (U.K.), St Bartholomew's Church
Harmonia mundi - HMU 907320 (73'31")
Above the starrs my saviour dwells a,b,c,d,f:
Alman a 4;
Fantasia a 3 [VdGS, No. 3*];
Fantasia a 3 [VdGS, No. 10];
Fantasia a 3 [VdGS, No. 14];
Fantasia a 6 [VdGS, No. 1];
Fantasia a 6 [VdGS, No. 2];
Fantasia a 6 [VdGS, No. 3];
Galliard a 6;
In Nomine a 3 [VdGS, No. 1];
In Nomine a 3 [VdGS, No. 2];
O Lord, let me knowe myne end a,b,c,d,f;
Pavan a 4;
Pavan a 5 [VdGS, No. 6];
Pavan a 6;
Rejoice, rejoice and singe a,b,c,d,e,f;
Sing unto god 1,b,c,d,f;
Thou art my king a,b,c,d,e,f;
Ut re mi fa sol la a 4;
Woe is me  b
Richard Boothby, Richard Campbell, Wendy Gillespie, Julia Hodgson, William
Hunt, Susanna Pell, viols
(Sources:  Songs, 1622; *VdGS = Thematic Index of Music for Viols,
compiled by Gordon Dodd)
Thomas Tomkins was a composer who always remained a kind of 'outsider'
in the musical life in England. "From Worcester, Tomkins came to Chapel
Royal and court mainly for funerals and coronations, or whenever his choral
abilities were in demand," says David Pinto in his liner notes. The court
was dominated by composers of foreign ancestry, like Bassano, Ferrabosco
and Lanier. It is remarkable that Tomkins in the dedication of his works
never mentioned their names, in contrast to English-born composers like
Byrd, Dowland, Gibbons and Coprario - who, despite his Italianised name,
was English (Cooper). His attempt to become court composer after the death
of Alfonso Ferrabosco II failed.
Tomkins is rather moderate in expression: he avoids the extremes and
strong individualism of the works of younger contemporaries like William
Lawes and Matthew Locke. And only a small part of his musical output became
widely known, although it belonged to the standard repertoire in Worcester.
This recording gives an interesting insight into that part of his oeuvre
which centres around the consort of viols. Some of the most interesting
works are his Fantazias in 6 parts. (The liner notes refer to four of them,
but in the track list I can see only three.) One of them (VdGS No. 2)
contains some heavy chromaticism. That is also the case in the second part
of the Pavan a 5, which begins with a reworking of Dowlands Lachrymae.
The density of the Pavan a 6 results in an almost orchestral sound. Its
solemnity contrasts nicely with the following Galliard a 6, a playful
piece with lively rhythms and imitation between the voices.
A special kind of composition is the consort anthem. There were two kinds
of anthems in the liturgy of the Church of England: the full anthem and
the verse anthem. The former is written for ‘choir’, whereas the
latter contains passages for solo voices. In church, the verse anthem
was usually accompanied by the organ, but in the Chapel Royal there was
the alternative option of the viol consort. It was also at the court that
the verse anthem had its origins: it developed from the secular consort
song: a piece for solo voice and viols.
In his verse anthems, Tomkins uses the solo passages to illustrate the text.
The most obvious example is the music going down and up on the words "I will
treade them downe, that rise up against me" (Thou art my king). Repetition
and the use of short notes illustrate ‘time’ ("how longe" and "a spanne
longe" respectively) in the first piece on this CD, O Lord, let me knowe
myne end. Most verse anthems start with a short prelude for the viols,
which set the tone for the whole piece. The difference between the preludes
of Sing unto god and Woe is me is striking.
This is a very recommendable recording. Tomkins’ music – with the exception
of his keyboard works and some sacred music – is poorly represented on CD.
That makes this recording especially welcome. And the music recorded here is
of such a quality that it is a delight to listen to. The programme has been
well put together, with its alternation of vocal and instrumental works, and
of more serious and ‘lighter’ items.
Fortunately the music is well served by the performance. Fretwork is playing
superbly. There is no lack of expression, the choice of tempo and the use
of dynamics are very convincing. And both the solemn and more playful pieces
get the best possible treatment.
All the singers are well-known from the early music scene. Their voices
blend very well, and the individual contributions of most singers are fine.
It is great to hear Emma Kirkby in excellent form here. This is the kind
of music that suits her best. The only reservations I have regard Richard
Wistreich: his voice sounds a little stressed in the upper register and his
singing lacks a bit subtlety. On the other hand, Charles Daniels is just
brilliant and very expressive in his solo contributions.
A feature which makes this recording even more recommendable is the use of
Elizabethan pronunciation of the texts of the anthems, which are also
printed in the original spelling in the booklet. The liner notes by David
Pinto are very informative and the booklet also contains information about
the artists and the instruments used in this recording.
N.B. This review first appeared on MusicWeb
Johan van Veen (© 2003)