The English 17th century: Vocal Releases

Program: #20-41   Air Date: Sep 28, 2020

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Music for the Mayflower, ayres of Henry Lawes, and “In Chains of Gold” Volume 2 with the Magdalena Consort, Fretwork, and His Majesty’s Sagbutts & Cornetts.

I. In Chains of Gold: The English Pre-Restoration Verse Anthem Volume 2  (Magdalena Consort/Fretwork/His Majesty’s Sagbutts & Cornetts) Signum CD SIGCD609. 

In Chains of Gold: The English Pre-Restoration Verse Anthem Vol. 2 Product Image
Leading performers of 17th-century music the Magdalena Consort, Fretwork and His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts combine forces under the artistic direction of William Hunt for their second release exploring the English Pre-Restoration Verse Anthem – Psalms and Royal Anthems, particularly those of William Byrd.

More than any composer before him, William Byrd catered prolifically to a wide variety of musicians. Connoisseurs of Latin motets at home and abroad, troupes of boy actors with their viols and their unbroken voices, solo keyboard players, the choirs of the established English church, and the underground ensembles of Catholic households where mass was celebrated in secret— performers of all these kinds could look to Byrd for quantities, in some cases vast, of music of the highest excellence.

From Music Web International: The first recording in this series, devoted to the consort anthems of Orlando Gibbons, earned a good deal of praise, not least from Johan van Veen – review – and myself – Autumn 2017/3 (SIGCD511).

From Gibbons we now turn the clock back slightly to William Byrd and his younger contemporaries. With emphasis rightly placed on Byrd’s Latin texted music on other recordings, it’s good to be reminded that he was the first composer of distinction after the Reformation to adapt to the new English texts. His older contemporary and friend, Thomas Tallis, never quite made the transition as successfully, yet only a handful of Byrd’s English anthems are at all well known. The Tallis Scholars’ excellent 2-CDs-for-1 set The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd includes just four – Prevent us, O Lord, O Lord make thy servant Elizabeth, O God, the proud are risen and Sing joyfully – alongside his three Masses and other Latin music (CDGIM208). Whether by design or not, none of these are included here, so there is no duplication.

Nor is there any overlap with another very fine recording, from the Dunedin Consort, which, confusingly, is also entitled In Chains of Gold, containing Latin texts set by Byrd and Tallis (Delphian DCD34008 – review – Autumn 2019/1). In fact, the new recording is self-recommending, especially to those who heard and enjoyed Volume 1. Some of the Byrd pieces are not otherwise available, including the opening Hear my prayer, O Lord.

One work which is available on another recording of Byrd’s more intimate music, sacred and secular, is Have mercy upon me, O God.  An early Naxos recording with Red Byrd and the Rose Consort of Viols includes it and Christ rising again. It’s sung there, as here, with viol accompaniment, as would have been intended, and it’s very well sung, but the new Signum recording is preferable, lending greater dignity to the music, where the Naxos is more redolent of the singing and playing of the gifted amateurs who would have sung it (8.550604).

Teach me Lord has received a number of recordings, notably on a Hyperion recording of music from the reigns of the two Tudor queens: Mary and Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey. That’s the only item common to both and the Hyperion deserves praise in its own right (CDA67704). Michael Greenhalgh praised it – review – as did I – review – but in one respect the new Signum scores over it. Much of Byrd’s English output was written for intimate performance, and, though this piece was probably composed for Lincoln Cathedral in the 1560s, as a verse anthem at the end of Mattins or Evensong, it benefits from its comparatively small-scale performance here, with just ten singers in the choral section.

The Hyperion recording features a treble soloist in the verse part, which is authentic, but inevitably his voice cannot compete with that Zoë Brookshaw, triplex on the new recording.  The chamber organ on the new Signum sounds more appropriate, too, than the All Hallows' organ on the Westminster Abbey recording; however sensitively the registration has been chosen, it inevitably sounds like a large organ toned down. For all that, I shall still be returning to the Westminster recording.

Christ rising from the dead is certainly a piece for liturgical use; it sets words directed in the English Book of Common Prayer to be said or sung in place of the invitatory psalm Venite at Mattins on Easter Day, one of the few remnants of the pre-reformation Easter celebrations remaining in the Elizabethan Prayer Book of 1559. (online version here) It’s little wonder that Catholics like Byrd thought they were living in a new Babylonian captivity, but he makes the most of the opportunity to set these sentences. There are a few alternative recordings, including a collection of music for Music for Holy Week and Easter from Queen’s College Oxford and Owen Rees (Guild GMCD7222). That was warmly recommended by John Quinn – review – but it receives a slightly snappier and more festive performance on the new Signum recording.

The Red Byrd recording on Naxos, mentioned above, concludes with Christ rising. Like Have mercy upon me, it’s well sung and represents what might have been heard in the queen’s Chapel Royal, but the attempt at Elizabethan pronunciation – hardly noticeable in the earlier piece – is more irritating here. Like most such attempts, it comes out sounding like Mummerset and is best left alone; we know much more about the pronunciation of Chaucer than we do about the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when English vowels shifted to their current diphthongised sounds.

The final two works by Byrd have been convincingly reconstructed. The words have been preserved, as has most of the parts, but for a viol consort. The piecing together has been done most convincingly; it works well with the able assistance of the accomplished viol consort Fretwork. There are no other recordings, and it’s hardly likely that these will be supplanted.

Thus far, the Byrd pieces had already sold this recording to me – not quite literally, because I had press access, though I might well have found myself in the market otherwise. The 16-bit CD-quality download costs just £7.99, with 24/96 for £12.00 and 24/192 for the real hi-def buffs costing £14.00. All come with the pdf booklet. The CD can be found on limited special offer from Presto for £11.50.

The only other composer here who is well known is Thomas Morley, represented by one piece, the penitential psalm Out of the Deep – perhaps Signum are saving more of his music for a future volume?

John Bull may have given his name to the archetypal Englishman – and a children’s printing set a long time ago – but he spent the latter part of his life in exile, fleeing the intended punishment of the Archbishop of Canterbury and King James, and sometimes claiming to be a Catholic exile. Nevertheless, the Archbishop was correct when he admitted that Bull had ‘more music than honesty’ and was adept at ‘the fingering of organs and virginals’. His two vocal works and the keyboard fantasia will whet the appetite for more of his music. Perhaps Signum, who include one of his instrumental In Nomines on another recording (SIGCD576 – review) could provide us with a complete Bull album?

Benjamin Cosyn’s very short Dorick Prelude can be found on a collection of music for lute consort (Alpha 305 – review) and an equally short organ Voluntary on Delphian DCD34100 – review – and that’s about it, so the two voluntaries presented here as interludes are very welcome.

Nor is the music of John Mundy abundantly to be found on record. His setting of Sing joyfully may not quite equal the intensity of his Lamentations, sung by the Lay Clerks of St George’s Windsor on Delphian DCD34068 but, as performed here, with Peter Harvey an impressive bass soloist in the verse sections, it demonstrates that he deserves to be better known. (Incidentally, he is not to be confused with the slightly better known and earlier William Mundy, as I did in mentioning that recording in reviewing another Delphian recording.)

Edward Hooper is equally little known, though famous in his time; he was the Master of Choristers at Westminster Abbey and a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. On the basis of the two pieces here, he certainly deserves to be much better known. O God of Gods, written for the anniversary of the accession of King James, is especially impressive; the notes compare its antiphonal effects with the best of renaissance and baroque Venice and it makes a wonderful conclusion to a very impressive programme, accompanied by the full instrumental works, including the dulcian’s sole appearance on this recording.

Much as I enjoyed Volume 1, as fine a set of recordings of Orlando Gibbons as you will find, I was even more impressed by this successor volume. Not only does it offer music by Byrd not otherwise available on record, it also introduces us to the music of Edward Hooper – a real find. It does so, too, with performances unlikely to be bettered of their kind. The recording, especially as heard in 24-bit, does music and performances full justice and the booklet contains helpful and informative notes, though it’s remiss of Signum not to give the composers’ dates. The expression ‘to draw the hearer, as it were, in chains of gold’ was intended by Thomas Morley as a criticism of singers who broke the choral ranks by showing off; there’s no hint of that here.

The Recommended accolade is for the cumulative achievement of the two volumes, with more to come, I hope.

William BYRD (1540?-1623)
Hear my prayer, O Lord [3:24]
O Lord, rebuke me not [4:59]
Have mercy upon me, O God [4:03]
Fantasia (No.46) [4:26]
Teach me, O Lord [3:11]
Christ Rising Again [5:20]
I Will Give Laud [3:50]
Look and Bow Down [6:00]
John BULL (1562?-1628)
Almighty God, Which by the Leading of a Star [4:42]
Fantasia No.16 [1:12]
Deliver Me, O God [4:21]
Benjamin COSYN (c.1570-c.1652)
Voluntary No.3 [1:47]
Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602)
Out of the Deep [3:48]
Benjamin COSYN
Voluntary No.1 [2:19]
Edmund HOOPER (c.1553-1621)
Hearken ye Nations [5:59]
John MUNDY (c.1555-1630)
Sing joyfully [4:44]
O God of Gods [6:16] 

II. Henry Lawes: Ayres  (La Rêveuse). Mirare CD MIR 177.

Henry Lawes: Ayres Product Image
From Music Dei Donum:  

The Elizabethan era in England is generally known as the 'golden age'. A large amount of music was written and the number of recordings devoted to this repertoire bear witness to its quality. In comparison the next stages in English music history are given less attention. It is mostly the music for viol consort which is part of the repertoire, but vocal music, and especially the song repertoire from the time between, say, Dowland and Purcell is not that often performed and recorded. The French ensemble La Ręveuse recorded a number of pieces by Henry Lawes, who is overshadowed by his brother William, famous for his consort music. Henry wrote some sacred music, but the largest part of his output comprises songs and dialogues. According to New Grove no less of 433 pieces in this genre are known. Very few have made it into the concert repertoire and not that many have been recorded. For that reason this disc is an important addition to the catalogue.

Henry was the older brother of William and was probably educated as a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral. From an early age he became involved in circles around the court, and in 1631 he was appointed as one of Charles I's musicians "for the lutes and voices". It seems likely that he took part in performances of masques and may have written music for them. However, nothing from his pen in this department has been preserved. During the years of the Commonwealth he acted as music teacher for aristocratic families and participated in private concerts which met great approval. After the Restoration he was restored to his former positions in the King's Music and at the Chapel Royal and was appointed as Composer in ye Private Musick for Lutes and Voices.

Lawes' songs were printed in three collections by Playford; in addition a large number of songs have been preserved in manuscript. The printed editions date from between 1652 and 1669, but it seems likely that these are compilations of what Lawes composed during his career. They show a clear stylistic development from a rather strict strophic form to rhythmically freer songs, which bear witness to the influence of modern Italian music. However, Lawes never made use of the form of the monody.

It is not easy to decide how these songs should be performed. The liner-notes don't give much information about the individual songs, when they may have been written and in which context they may have been sung. These things are probably not known. I especially refer to this because the performers have opted for a highly dramatic and theatrical approach. This could be justified if these songs were written for, for instance, a masque. However, some of the poets belonged to the high echelons of society with whom Lawes came into contact later in his career. The texts and Lawes' music certainly give reason for an expressive performance, but I suspect that in many cases the performances here are overdone. The tempi are often very slow, many words are given special attention and Jeffrey Thompson uses too many 'special effects' to underline elements in the texts. Whither are all her false oaths blown is just one example of a song whose theatrical interpretation is highly exaggerated. The problem is that there are so few recordings of this repertoire - as far as I know - that I can't make a comparison in order to assess whether a different approach would make a better impression.

This disc at least proves that this repertoire is well worth exploring. The artists have had the good idea of adding some music by Lawes' contemporaries, such as Nicholas Lanier and Daniel Norcombe. In the mid-17th century the influx of musicians and composers from abroad started and it is interesting to see how this influenced the idiom of English music of the time. There is still much to discover.

Johan van Veen 
CD 3: Henry Lawes – Ayres
Henry LAWES (1595-1662)
Have you e’er seen the morning sun? [1:44]
Slide soft you silver floods [3:48]
Bid me but live, and I will live [2:18]
Francis WITHY (c.1645-1727)
Divisions on a ground [5:31]
Daniel BACHELOR (1572-1619)
Prelude [1:50]
I rise and grieve [6:40]
Or you, or I, nature did wrong [2:09]
Nicholas LANIER (1588-1666)
Neither sighs, nor tears, nor mourning [1:37]
William LAWES (1602-1645)
Almain/Courant 1/Corant 2 (arr. for harpsichord and lute) [4:03]
Whither are all her false oaths blown? [3:02]
William LAWES
I’m sick of love [3:05]
Nicholas LANIER
No more shall meads be deck’d with flowers [5:02]
Daniel NORCOMBE (c.1576-1655)
Tregian’s ground [4:49]
When thou, poor excommunicate [3:11]
Sleep soft, you cold clay cinders [3:39]
Out upon it, I have lov’d [1:20]
Jacques GAULTIER (c.1600-c.1652)
Courant [1:30]
Cloches de Mr Gaultier [1:48]
Sweet stay awhile, why do you rise? [3:16]
O tell me love! O tell me fate! [2:05]
Christopher SIMPSON (1602/1606?-1669)
Division on John come kiss me now [2:04]
Wert thou yet fairer than thou art [2:35]
William LAWES
Why so pale and wan, fond lover? [2:08]
La Rêveuse (Jeffrey Thompson (tenor), Florence Bolton (viola da gamba), Bertrand Cuiller (harpsichord), Benjamin Perrot (lute, theorbo & baroque guitar)

III. They That in Ships Unto the Sea Down Go: Music for the Mayflower  (Passamezzo) Resonus CD RES10263.

Early Music group Passamezzo make their Resonus Classics debut with a collection of music and song brought together to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower.

The Mayflower left England in 1620, with passengers and crew all seeking a fresh start in the New World. Featuring works from the books that some of the passengers took with them, this album gives an insight into the range of music that might have been sung on board this famous ship from composers such as Richard Allison, John Dowland and Thomas Campion.

From Music Web International: In September 1620, four hundred years ago, one hundred and two men, women and children sailed on the Mayflower from Plymouth and landed at a place they called Plymouth Rock, building houses there. It had taken them more than two months. One of their aims was to seek religious freedom; they are known now as ‘Separatists’. They were merchants and people of financial security as well as farm labourers and apprentices, and they took with them books, including at least three printed Music Books. It is from these that the pieces on this CD have been drawn.

Although it is often said that the Puritans, as they became, eschewed music and various basic pleasures, that is not strictly true and we know that several musical instruments, such as drums and a trumpet, went on the Mayflower, which so impressed the indigenous people. There must have been recorders and string instruments, too, so Passamezzo also utilise a lute, a cittern and viols in their programme.

First up, is Henry Ainsowrth’s Book of Psalms. He was a dissenter and the CD starts with his version of Psalm 137 which rather convolutedly begins “By Babel’s waters, there sat we, yea wept/when we did mind Sion/The willows that amidst it be”. Although no composer is given, Ainsworth suggests tunes to fit his metred verses. However, Psalm 100 does use the ancient tune, even now still called the Old 100th. This book continued to be used in the colonies for many years after.

A second book is Richard Allison’s ‘The Psalms of David’. Allison is an intriguing person. There are several skilfully arranged instrumental pieces by him in Morley’s ‘First Book of Consort Lessons’ of 1599. In 1606, Alison produced a book entitled ‘A Hour’s Recreation in Music’. Edmund Fellows describes this as “of no particular merit”. This is somewhat harsh, as at least one of those madrigals, ‘Shall I abide this jesting', is rather fine. Anyway, his Psalm publication came out in 1599 and then we find him as a house musician at Aldgate. He seems to have died by 1609-10, probably aged about 60. These psalm settings are often tuneful and easily memorable.

The third book is ‘The Golden garden of Princely pleasures and delicate delights’…. ‘enlarged and corrected by Rich. Johnson’ who may have been related to Robert Johnson, Shakespeare’s Lutenist. This curious publication contains ‘the histories of the kings, queens, princes, lords, ladies. knights” etc. etc. ‘set to sundry new tunes” and these are all secular pieces including The most cruel murther of Edward the fifth. These are narrated by actor/singer Richard de Winter as well as sung to rhyming texts. Another curiosity, London’s Lottery, was a broadside ballad of 1612 explaining and promoting voyages to the New World.

Other pieces included by Passamezzo include songs about the new craze for tobacco brought back by Sir Walter Raleigh. These include Weelkes’ swaggering Come Sirrah Jack ho from his ‘Ayres and phantasticke spirites’ for three voices of 1608. Dowland is featured in his Up merry mates, a partial dialogue song from his 3rd Book of Songs (1603) and is all about a group of sailors who encounter a storm. The disc ends on a calm, quasi-sacred note with Campion’s well-known Never Weather-Beaten Sail with the line ‘Never tired pilgrim limbs’. The composer died just a few months before the pilgrims set out to America. This, then, is a highly suitable end to an attractive and fascinating programme.

I love the purity and suitability of all of the four voices used, especially the soprano Eleanor Cramer whom I shall look out for again. The instrumental work, solo or accompanimental, is tasteful and beautifully balanced; especially attractive are the two popular songs by the Cavalier composer Thomas Ford which are renamed as instrumental pieces. The recording, made in St. John’s Wood Church in North London, is clear and focused.

All texts are included and there is a very informative essay by Tamsin Lewis, one of the performers. There is an example of a page of print from Ainsworth’s Book and a colour photo of the group in costume, singing around a table with their partbooks.

Gary Higginson

1. Psalm 137 [2.16]
2. Richard ALLISON (c.1565-1606) The Lord’s Prayer
3. London’s Lottery [3.55]
4. We be three poor mariners/Row well ye mariners [2.04]
5. Richard ALLISON: The Lamentation [3.51]
6. The most cruel murther of Edward the fifth [4.59]
7. Rogero [1.34]
8. A Lamentable Ditty on the death of the Lord Guildford Dudley [2.09]
9. Richard ALLISON: Psalm 122 [2.20]
10. John DOWLAND (1563-1626) The Shepherd’s Pipe [3.35]
11. The Shepherds Joy [2.29]
12. The Inconstancy of the World [3.10]
13. Richard ALLISON: Psalm 147 [4.23]
14. The wind blows out of the west [1.34]
15. Tobias HUME (c.1579-1645) Tobacco is like love [2.35]
16. Thomas WEELKES (1576-1623) Come Sirrah Jack ho [2.28]
17. The Birds’ Dance [1.25]
18. Song from the Masque of Flowers [3.31]
19. Psalm 100 [1.33]
20. Psalm 100 [1.33]
21. John DOWLAND: Up merry mates [3.00]
22. Thomas FORD (c.1580-1648) Love’s Constancy/Corydon’s Resolution [1.48]
23. Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620) Never weather-beaten sail [2.23]

Composer Info

William BYRD (1540?-1623), John BULL (1562?-1628), Benjamin COSYN (c.1570-c.1652), Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602), Edmund HOOPER (c.1553-1621), John MUNDY (c.1555-1630), Henry LAWES (1595-1662), Francis WITHY (c.1645-1727), Daniel BACHELOR (1572-1619), Nicholas LANIER (1588-1666), William LAWES (1602-1645), Daniel NORCOMBE (c.1576-1655), Jacques GAULTIER (c.1600-c.1652), Christopher SIMPSON (1602/1606?-1669), Richard ALLISON (c.1565-1606), John DOWLAND (1563-1626), Tobias HUME (c.1579-1645), Thomas WEELKES (1576-1623), Thomas FORD (c.1580-1648), Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620)  

CD Info

Signum CD SIGCD609, Mirare CD MIR 177, Resonus CD RES10263