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Richard DERING & Peter PHILIPS: "Exiled"

Choir of King's College, Aberdeen (David J. Smith)a; Rose Consort of Violsb; David J. Smith, harpsichordc

rec: May 29 - 31, 2017, Aberdeen, St Mary's Chapel, Blairs
Vox Regis - VXR0004 ( 2017) (66'32")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list
Scores Philips

1580 Pavan a 4 - Galliard to Philips Pavan (MB 101:1-2)b; Almande a 5 (MB 101:3)b; Aria del Gran Duca (MB 101:4)b; Beata Dei genitrix a 8* (MB 61:21)ab; Galliard a 5 (MB 101:11) (after Anthony Holborne)b; Hodie in monte a 8* (MB 61:3)ab; Nowils Galliard a 5 (MB 101:13) (after Anthony Holborne)b; Pavan & Galliard a 5 (MB 101:12a/b) (after Thomas Morley)b; Piper's Galliard I (MB 75:17) (after John Dowland)c; Piper's Galliard II (MB 75:18) (after John Dowland)c; Paget Pavan & Galliard (MB 75:16a/b)c; Paget Pavan & Galliard (MB 101:8a/b)b

Source: [1] Peter Philips, Cantiones sacrae, 1613

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

It makes much sense to bring together music by Peter Philips and Richard Dering into one recording. Both were Catholic, went to Italy to broaden their horizon and stayed on the continent, more in particular in Brussels in the Spanish Netherlands, after that. This suggests that they must have been in touch with each other, as well as with John Bull, who also worked in Brussels, but there is no documentary evidence of that.

Philips was a pupil of Byrd, and, like his teacher, a convinced Catholic. It was the reason he left England in 1582. After a short stay in Brussels, he travelled to Italy, where he came under the spell of the Italian style, which left its mark on his development as a composer of vocal music. His motets and madrigals reflect the influence of what he had heard and learnt in Italy.

It has been thought that Dering was a Catholic from birth, like Philips, but it is more likely that he was born in Protestant circles. He was the illegitimate son of Henry Dering of Liss, Hampshire, and probably of Elizabeth, sister of Henry, Lord Grey of Ruthin and 6th Earl of Kent. It is not known for sure when he went to Italy, but his presence in Rome is documented in 1612. It seems that he converted to Catholicism during his stay in Italy. He decided not to return to England, but went to Brussels instead, where in 1617 he became organist of the convent of English nuns. He returned to England in 1625, when he was appointed organist to Queen Henrietta Maria (herself a Catholic) soon after her marriage to Charles I.

The programme includes mainly consort music by Philips and Dering. In both cases this is not the part of their oeuvre for which they are particularly known. Philips is a household name, but it is mainly his keyboard music and his motets which are part of the standard repertoire. Dering, on the other hand, is a virtually neglected composer who is badly represented on disc. Some of his motets have been recorded several times, but most of his output has been recorded only once or not at all, and almost always as part of anthologies.

Most of Philips' instrumental music - either for keyboard or for a consort of viols - has come down to us thanks to Francis Tregian, who put together the famous Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Some of his partbooks with instrumental music include pieces by Philips, which are either originally written for consort or as arrangements of keyboard works. They were likely written for performance at the court in Brussels. In the case of the arrangements is has not been possible to establish which form was the original one. The present disc shows the differences in that two pieces have been recorded in both the keyboard and the consort versions: Paget Pavan & Galliard. The title refers to Thomas Paget, a prominent English Roman Catholic refugee, who was Philips' companion during their travels across Europe from 1585 to 1590. In the latter year Paget died, and this pavan and galliard may have been written in his memory. It is notable that Philips avoids one of the most popular forms of English consort music, the fantasia or fancy. He rather focused on dances, such as pavans, galliards and almandes. Whereas his vocal music bears witness to the Italian influence on his development as a composer, in his instrumental music it hardly manifests itself. The only token of his stay in Italy is the Aria del Gran Duca.

In his liner-notes to the recording of Philips' consort music by The Parley of Instruments (Hyperion, 1988), Peter Holmans suggests that Philips was acquainted with the violin, and that he probably intended his consort music to be played by violins. Obviously this is hard to prove; the present disc is a nice alternative to the Hyperion disc in that here the music is played on viols.

Whereas Philips' consort music dates from his time in Brussels, Dering composed his consort music before his departure for Italy. None of it was published, and has almost entirely escaped the attention of the viol consorts of our own time. I can't remember having ever heard any of his consort music before. His output in this genre is not very large: eight fantasias for five and two for six voices, eight pavans, three almaines and one galliard for five voices, one pavan for four and one almaine for three voices. This disc offers a substantial part of that. The In nomine is one of two such pieces for six voices, which are ranked among the doubtful works in New Grove. The recording of Dering's consort music has been made possible by the modern edition of David J. Smith, also the director of the Choir of King's College Aberdeen and the performer of the keyboard works on this disc.

John Bryan, director of the Rose Consort of Viols, admits that he and his colleagues had played very little of Dering's music prior to this project. They were pleased to record a selection from his oeuvre, which he characterises as "[sometimes] quirky, often sonorous, and always imaginative in its treatment of the viols and the varied textures they can produce". The pieces recorded here attest to that statement. Dering's treatment of harmony is particularly notable. Most of his pieces are dominated by imitative polyphony. Their texture comes out well here, thanks to the clarity of the Rose Consort of Viols' playing and the transparency of the recorded sound. Philips' pieces come out equally well. The comparison between the consort and keyboard versions is especially interesting, as they show how Philips removes the typical figurations of the keyboard versions in the consort pieces.

Viols did play a role in the performance of sacred vocal music in England, especially in the Chapel Royal, and maybe also in the private chapels of aristocrats. However, it was mostly the organ which accompanied the choir in anthems. That was different on the continent, and this explains the combination of voices and viols - the latter either playing colla voce or replacing one or several voices - in two of Philips' eight-part motets for two choirs. It was decided to score the two choirs differently: in the first the four parts are entirely sung, with some of them supported by viols, whereas the second is treated in the way of a consort song, in which the parts are divided among voices and viols. The choir sings very well here, and I would have been happy had a couple more vocal pieces been included in the programme.

Philips' consort music has been recorded before, but is probably not easily available right now, and as Dering's music seems to appear here for the very first time, this is a quite important disc and a substantial addition to the discography. Add to that the high quality of the performances and one will understand that this disc deserves the attention of all lovers of English renaissance music.

Johan van Veen ( 2018)

Relevant links:

David J. Smith
Choir of King's College, Aberdeen
Rose Consort of Viols

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