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Christopher TYE (c1505 - c1573): "Consort Music - In Nomine"

The Spirit of Gambo; Claron McFadden, sopranoa

rec: June 16 - 19, 2014, Haarlem, Doopsgezinde Kerk
Musica Ficta - MF8022 (© 2014) (68'05")
Liner-notes: E/F/N; no lyrics
Cover & track-list
Scores In Nomines

Amavit eum Dominus; Christus resurgens; In nomine a 4; In nomine a 5; In nomine a 6a; In nomine: Beleve me; In nomine: Blamles; In nomine: Crye; In nomine: Farewell my good 1. for ever; In nomine: Follow me; In nomine: Free from all; In nomine: Howld fast; In nomine: I come; In nomine: My deathe bedde; In nomine: Rachell's Weepinge; In nomine: Re la re; In nomine: Reporte; In nomine: Round; In nomine: Saye so; In nomine: Seldome sene; In nomine: Surrexit non est hic; In nomine: Trust; In nomine: Weepe no moore Rachell; In pace in idipsumab; Lawdes Deo; O lux beata Trinitas; Rubum quem; Sit fast

Freek Borstlap, treble viol; Liam Fennelly, treble viol, tenor viol; Gesina Liedmeier, tenor viol; Ivanka Neeleman, tenor viol, bass viol; Thomas Baeté, bass viol, voiceb

The name of Christopher Tye may appear once in a while in concert programmes and on discs with sacred vocal music or music for a consort of viols, but there are very few recordings entirely devoted to his oeuvre. That could be explained from the fact that his output is not that large, certainly not in comparison with that of his colleague Thomas Tallis who is far better represented on disc. Tye's oeuvre comprises a number of sacred works, both on Latin and on English texts, and 35 pieces for consort. The Spirit of Gambo recorded 27 of them, and that means that with this disc we have access to the largest part of his production in this genre.

It is not known exactly when Tye was born and died, nor the place of his birth. Cambridge and Ely are two of the towns where he spent part of his life. In 1536 he took the degree of BMus in Cambridge and the next year he became a lay clerk at King's College. At some time between 1537 and 1539 he left King's College; his whereabouts for the next two years are unknown. It was probably in 1541 that he became Magister choristarum of Ely Cathedral. In 1545 he received the degree of DMus from Cambridge University. At about the same time, when Edward VI was King, he was introduced to the court.

His oeuvre has suffered substantial losses: only half of the 22 sacred works he is known to have written have survived complete. Although he was an organist no keyboard works have come down to us. But his output in the genre of consort music is the largest by a single composer in his time. As one can see in the track-list the In nomine is especially well represented. With 24 pieces it is by far the dominant form in his consort oeuvre. The In nomine is based upon the Sarum antiphon Gloria tibi Trinitas as it was used by John Taverner as cantus firmus in his mass of the same name. One may fear that so many compositions which are based on the same material will result in more of the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is remarkable how different these In nomines are. Just compare the very first two in the programme (tracks 2 and 3): Rachell's Weepinge is a slowly forward-moving piece and strongly vocal in character, whereas Farewell my good 1. for ever is a more truly instrumental work in a vivid rhythm.

Although In nomines are based on a subject from a sacred work, they mostly have no specific religious connotations as several titles of Tye's settings show. These titles are not explained in the liner-notes, and their meaning is probably not known at all. Some have an additional subject, such as Re la re; Crye opens with a motif of repeated notes which return throughout the whole piece. However, some titles suggest that they are rooted in sacred music. Rachell's Weepinge and Weepe no more Rachell 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).

Most of the other pieces have Latin titles, and this is an indication that they have their origin in sacred music. Lawdes Deo is just one example; it includes several false relations which are so characteristic of English vocal music of the 16th century. Amavit eum Deus is certainly derived from vocal music: it is the instrumental version of the anthem I lift my heart to thee. This shows that it was quite common to perform vocal music instrumentally. That also justifies the inclusion of a purely vocal work: the motet In pace in idipsum. Claron McFadden sings the upper part whereas the remaining parts are played on the viols. It is nice that she also sings the cantus firmus in the In nomine a 6: this way the melody is more clearly audible than in most other settings. But maybe it was just a matter of making a virtue of necessity: the ensemble comprises five players and the piece is in six parts.

Tye's music constitutes a substantial part of the repertoire for viol consort, both in size and in quality. It is hard to understand that it is relatively seldom performed. That is the first reason this disc should be rated highly. The second is the performance. I have enjoyed earlier recordings by The Spirit of Gambo, and again I am impressed by the level and character of the performances. I like the perfect blending of the viols, which is not only due to the playing of the ensemble but also the fact that the instruments are by the same builder, Gesina Liedmeier. They are completely strung with unwound gut strings which produces a very nice and warm sound. As I noted some pieces are strongly vocal in character, and that comes off very well here, thanks to a beautiful shaping of the lines. I am also impressed by the subtle dynamic shading and the rhythmic precision. Claron McFadden does exactly the right thing in In pace in idipsum: she sings not as a soloist, but adds her voice to the ensemble as one of its parts. The plainchant is sung by Thomas Baeté; his style seems to be influenced by the performance practice of the ensemble Graindelavoix of which he is a member. That seems hardly appropriate in music of the English renaissance. But that is only a footnote to a most interesting and musically rewarding production.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

The Spirit of Gambo
Claron McFadden

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