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John WARD (1571 - 1638): "Fantasies & Verse Anthems"

Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford (Daniel Hyde)a; Phantasm

rec: May 6 - 9, 2013, Oxford, Chapel of Magdalen College
Linn Records - CKD 427 ( 2014) (59'48")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Down, caitiff wretch (Part 1) - Prayer is an endless chain (Part 2)a; Fantasia a 4 No. 1 (VdGS 21); Fantasia a 4 No. 2 (VdGS 22); Fantasia a 4 No. 3 (VdGS 23); Fantasia a 4 No. 4 (VdGS 24); Fantasia a 4 No. 5 (VdGS 25); Fantasia a 4 No. 6 (VdGS 26); How long wilt thou forget me, O Lorda; Let God arisea; Mount up, my soula; Praise the Lord, O my soula; This is a joyful, happy holy daya

[CMC] Thomas Butterworth, Harry Camillieri, Benjamin Castella-McDonald; Isaac Castella-McDonald; Oliver Doggett, Harry Gant, James Gant, James Gibbon, Yiannis Goeldner-Thompson, Max Langdale, David McIntyre, Nicholas Ng, Alex Puttick, Michael Reichenberg-Ashby, treble; James Armitage, James Carter, Francis Gush, Angus White, alto; Edmund Bridges, Benjamin Durrant, Robin Horgan, Timothy Lintern, tenor; Gabriel Bambridge, Robin Culshaw, Joshua Copeland, Giles Underwood, William Pate, bass
[Ph] Laurence Dreyfus, treble viol; Emilia Benjamin, treble & tenor viol; Jonathan Manson, tenor viol; Mikko Perkola, bass viol
with: Christopher Terepin, tenor viol; Emily Ashton, tenor & bass viol

It seems unlikely that many music lovers are really familiar with the music of John Ward. His name doesn't appear often in concert programmes and he is not that well represented on disc. That is rather surprising as he is a most interesting figure and has some strongly individual traits which make him stand apart from many of his colleagues. One of these is the Italian influence in his oeuvre which comes especially to the fore in his madrigals. The style in that part of his oeuvre shines through in his anthems and consort music. To these genres the present disc is devoted. It puzzles me that the name of Phantasm is mentioned prominently on the cover, whereas the anthems take by far most space of the programme. The small print of the name of the Choir of Magdalen College doesn't do justice to its major role in this production.

There is a kind of connection between Ward and Magdalen College. He was probably born in Canterbury and started his career as a cathedral chorister and then a King's Scholar at the grammar school there. Next he joined the household of Sir Henry Fanshawe. This aristocrat was known as an Italianophile and an avid collector of musical instruments and works of art. Through his position as Remembrancer of the Exchequer he was linked to the Prince of Wales. In 1605 the prince went to Oxford where he matriculated at Magdalen College and was assigned the tutor in Hebrew to look after him. However, his stay at Magdalen was probably rather short. Even so, Ward's music can be connected not only to the Fanshawe household but also to the Prince of Wales's court. Part of it were some composers of Italian origin, such as Thomas Lupo and Alfonso Ferrabosco II. "According to a posthumous memoir from 1634 by William Haydon, a former Groom of the Bedchamber, Henry especially 'loved Musicke, and namely good consorts of Instruments and voices joined together".

This could partly explain the fact that Ward composed a number of pieces for this scoring. The last piece of the programme is even especially associated with Henry as it was written at the occasion of his investiture as Prince of Wales in 1610. It is quite an exuberant piece which one could call 'programmatic'. The opening phrase says: "This is a joyful, happy holy day, that us invites to sing, give thanks and pray, to sing in consort with sweet harmony of instruments and voices' melody". One of the features of Ward's music is his word-painting. That comes clearly to the fore in the verse anthems recorded here. Examples are the ascending figures in the opening phrase of Mount up, my soul and the descending lines at the start of Down, caitiff wretch: "Down, caitiff wretch, fall low and prostrate lie before the footstool of the Lord of Life". In the text three voice types are mentioned: "Tenor", "Mean" and "Discant". No wonder the respective phrases are sung by a low tenor, a high tenor and two trebles respectively. Two basses eloquently express the opening line of Let God arise: "Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered".

All the vocal works recorded here are verse anthems, meaning that they include episodes for solo voices and for full choir. It is notable that the solo voices often act in pairs, sometimes singing in canon. There is quite some imitation between the voices. Despite Ward being active in the first decades of the 17th century the Italian influence in his oeuvre is not that of the representatives of the stile nuovo but rather of the polyphonic style of the late 16th-century madrigalists, such as Marenzio. In the article on Ward in New Grove it is stated that his "approach to his madrigals was serious". The same can be said of his anthems: This is a joyful, happy holy day is of a rather unusual happy nature, the logical result of the text and the occasion. But in most other pieces there is indeed a strong sense of seriousness, even in Praise the Lord, O my soul, a setting of verses from Psalm 104.

The same can be said of his consort music. Phantasm recorded the complete music for five and six viols in 2009, here we hear six fantasias for four viols. The individualism of Ward's vocal works is present here as well, although they are less adventurous than the five- and six-part pieces. In his liner-notes Laurence Dreyfus suggests that these six pieces are written as a group. There are still gaps in the Ward catalogue as far as the instrumental music is concerned. According to New Grove Ward composed 21 fantasias for four viols, and he also wrote a number of In Nomines in four, five and six parts as well as some pieces for two viols. It would be great if Phantasm would get the opportunity to record those works in the near future.

Ward's music is quite original and captivating. It is served well by this recording. The singing of the Choir of Magdalen College is admirable, and I have especially enjoyed the solo contributions of the trebles from the choir. Some of them use a little more vibrato than one would wish, but it is not really obtrusive. Their contributions are certainly not devoid of expression and they explore the elements of word-painting quite well. That also goes for their adult colleagues. The only question mark regards the size of the choir. In the tutti sections I found the balance between the choir and Phantasm unsatisfying. Sometimes the viols were hardly audible.

I had nothing but praise for Phantasm's recording of the five- and six-part consort music and the present recording is of the same high quality. The transparency reveals the specific features of Ward's fantasias and the rather unusual lively rhythms of the Fantasia No. 6 comes off very well. Ward and Phantasm seems a happy marriage.

Johan van Veen ( 2015)

Relevant links:

Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford

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