musica Dei donum

CD reviews

English renaissance music for wind instruments

[I] "Music for Windy Instruments - Sounds from the court of James I"
The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble
rec: Jan 26 - 28, 2018, Stroud (Gloucestershire), All Saints Church
Resonus Classics - RES10225 (© 2018) (59'50")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

John ADSON (c1587-1640): Air (ed. Ian Payne); anon: Almain (ed. Ian Payne); Augustine BASSANO (?-1604): Pavan; Jeronimo BASSANO (c1480-1545): Almain in D (ed. Ian Payne); Fantasia (ed. Ian Payne); Giovanni CROCE (1557-1609): Ove tra l'herba; Alfonso FERRABOSCO I (1543-1588): Exaudi, Deus, orationem meam (1. Pars) - Quoniam declinaverunt (2. Pars); Interdette speranze; Se lungi dal mio sol (1. Pars) - Sola voi no'l sentite (2. Pars); Alfonso FERRABOSCO II (1575-1628): Almain in D (ed. Ian Payne); Giovanni FERRETTI (c1540-1609): Dolc'amorose e leggiadrette ninfe; Un pastor chies' ad una ninfa amore; James HARDEN (1574-1626): Almain (ed. Ian Payne); Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): In te Domine speravi (1. Pars) - Quoniam fortitudo mea (2. Pars); Mon coeur se recommande ŕ vous; Thomas LUPO (1571-1627): Almain in D (ed. Ian Payne); Luca MARENZIO (c1553-1599): Talché, dovunque vň; Peter PHILIPS (c1560-1628): Amarilli di Julio Romanoa; Fece da voia; Le Rossignuol (Lassus)a; Orazio VECCHI (155-1605): Gitene, canzonette; Saltavan ninfe

Gawain Glenton, Andrea Inghisciano, soprano & mute cornett; Conor Hastings, soprano, alto, tenor & mute cornett; Nicholas Perry, tenor cornett; Tom Lees, Catherine Motuz, Emily White, tenor sackbut; Adrian France, tenor & bass sackbut; Silas Wollston, harpsichorda

[II] "The Woods so Wild"
Consort Brouillamini
rec: April 2019, Jambles, Église Saint-Bénigne
Paraty - 520268 (© 2020) (58'32")
Liner-notes: D/F
Cover & track-list

John ADSON (c1585-1640): The First of the Temple antic; The Second of the Temple antic; anon: Pakington's Pownde; Watkins Ale; Hugh ASHTON (1485-1558): Hugh Ashton's Maske; William BYRD (c1540-1623): La Volta; Rowland; The Woods so Wild; John COPRARIO (1575-1626): Cupararee or Grays' Inn; Giles FARNABY (1560-1640): Pawles Wharfe; Anthony HOLBORNE (c1545-1602): Hermoza; Muy Linda; The Fairie-Round; The Image of Melancholly; Robert JOHNSON (1583-1633): The First of the Prince's; The Second of the Temple; Matthew LOCKE (1621-1677): Suite No. 3 in F (transp to C); William MUNDY (1529-1591): O mater mundi; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Chacony in g minor (Z 730); Pavan in g minor (Z 752); Christopher TYE (c1505-1573): In Nomine XII 'Crye'; In Nomine XV 'Surrexit non est hic'

Guillaume Beaulieu, Virginie Botty, Elise Ferričre, Florian Gazagne, Aránzazu Nieto Vidaurrázaga, recorder

Recordings of instrumental music from the English renaissance mostly include consort music or, in the field of music for solo instruments, pieces for keyboard or lute. Consort music is usually played on viols or recorders; such music could sometimes also be played by a 'broken consort', an ensemble of instruments of different families. Music for loud wind instruments written in the decades around 1600 is far less known. On the continent, ensembles of cornetts and sackbuts were very common. They played separately, but were also frequently used in sacred music, in which they either played colla voce or acted as substitute for one or several voices. This seems to have been practised in England only now and then in the Chapel Royal and in chapels of the aristocracy at special occasions. Otherwise loud wind instruments were played in open air performances. A good example, albeit from a much later time, is the music Henry Purcell composed for the funeral of Queen Mary.

The first of the two discs to be reviewed here is devoted to repertoire that was specifically intended for loud wind instruments or adapted for them. The music that The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble has recorded, has been taken from one source: a set of manuscript part-books that is preserved in the Fitzwilliam Museum, which includes the music played by the wind players at the court of James I (1566-1625). Music played an important role at the royal court. It was played in the various spaces within the palaces, going from the very private (the Privy Chamber) to spaces that were generally accessible. It is in the former that the most intimate music was played, such as the keyboard pieces like those by Peter Philips which are also included in the programme. The music for loud wind instruments was performed in larger spaces.

Ensembles of wind instruments at first consisted of shawms and sackbuts, both in different ranges. Around 1600 the shawms were replaced by cornetts, which also existed in different pitches. Peter Holman, in his liner-notes, mentions that the players of the various ensembles connected to the court, originally consisted of foreigners. The important role of the Bassano family from Italy, which came to England under Henry VIII, in consort music is well-known; they played recorders, one of Henry's favourite instruments. The players of shawms and sackbuts were mostly from Germany and Flanders. Wind ensembles probably mostly played dance music, but also provided background music to formal dinners and other state occasions.

The programme recorded by The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble gives a good idea of the repertoire of wind ensembles. Obviously the then common dance types, such as the pavan and the almain, are represented. The Fantasia and the Air represent free instrumental forms. As one can see, the repertoire also included vocal items. The instrumental performance of vocal music was very common in the renaissance period, not only in England but across Europe. The interesting thing about the collection from the Fitzwilliam Museum is that it includes sacred and secular pieces by composers from the continent. Some of them may have been available in printed editions - but then one may wonder whether these were known in England - but others may have come to England through the players. Holman states that "[it] also suggests that the immigrant families at the English court maintained links with their relatives and counterparts on the Continent, making it easy for them to acquire foreign vocal music". The presence of pieces by the likes of Marenzio, Vecchi and Lassus attests to that. Alfonso Ferrabosco is a different case: although of Italian birth, he worked for several periods in England, and therefore his vocal music, even that part that he had written in Italy, may have become known in England.

Most vocal items have remained unchanged, but to Lassus's five-part chanson Mon coeur se recommande ŕ vous, a sixth voice was added. The wind ensemble usually played six-part pieces, and in the case of the Fitzwilliam collection, this causes a problem, as one of the part-books is missing. Therefore a reconstruction of the sixth part was needed in the case of instrumental pieces which are not known from any other source. Ian Payne is responsible for those reconstructions. In the case of the vocal items, the performers could turn to the originals.

The programme has been constructed in such a way that there is much variety: vocal items are separated by original instrumental works. Moreover, as I already indicated, we also get some keyboard pieces w hich bring us from the public spaces of the palaces to the most intimate rooms. Together, the pieces performed here give us an impression of the wide range of music that was performed at and around the court. The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble delivers excellent performances: technically immaculate, and musically engaging and energetic. The result is an hour of music that is not only highly interesting, but also musically entertaining. I don't know if such repertoire has ever been recorded before, but even so, it is little-known and therefore this disc is a substantial addition to the discography of English renaissance music.

The second disc is more 'conventional', as it were. Among the ensembles that perform English consort music, those consisting of recorders are second only to viol consorts. It seems that very few recorder consorts don't play this kind of music. No wonder that we find some familiar names in the programme, such as Anthony Holborne, Christopher Tye and Matthew Locke. This kind of repertoire may have been intended in the first place for viols, but given the popularity of the recorder in renaissance England, almost all of it can be performed by a consort of recorders without any problem. Not every piece may be equally convincable; I find it hard to imagine a performance of Dowland's Lachrymae pavans on recorders. The music included in the programme that was recorded by the Consort Brouillamini, comes off rather well.

In one way, this disc is somewhat different from most others of this kind. We not only get original consort music, but also keyboard pieces, which have been adapted for a consort of recorders. I can't see any specific reason for that: it is not if there is a lack of original music for an instrumental ensemble. The repertoire written in England in the second half of the 16th century and the first half of the 17th is sizeable. However, considering the close connections between instrumental and keyboard music at the time - they are often based on the same popular tunes - I also can't see any reason not to play such music. Adaptations like those performed here can offer a different perspective on pieces that one knows in performances on the harpsichord or virginal. I have certainly enjoyed, for instance, William Byrd's The woods so wild in this performance by recorders. I found the rather slow tempo of his Rowland less appropriate; the faster tempo of keyboard performances seems more suitable.

It is interesting that the pieces by Locke and Purcell are played on baroque recorders rather than the renaissance instruments used in the earlier pieces. "Those 'baroque' recorders have lighter trebles and offer a wider palette of articulations which suit better with the new concertante style" (booklet). I am not so sure whether Locke's suite from the Consort of Fower Parts can be ranked among the 'baroque' repertoire, but in Purcell this decision seems absolutely right. The remarkable harmonic progressions in the latter's pieces come off very well.

I have heard this ensemble before, and was impressed by its qualities. This disc confirms my positive impressions. I have very much enjoyed this disc. The performers have made a nice selection of pieces, and play them very well. The fact that they have included several keyboard pieces also guarantees that lovers of the recorder consort also will hear something that they have not heard many times before and has been recorded more than once by other ensembles.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Consort Brouillamini
The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble

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