Three English Ensembles with Renaissance Sacred Music

Program: #22-36   Air Date: Sep 05, 2022

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Recordings from the Choir of New College, Oxford, a two-CD set by Alamire, and the latest from The Gesualdo Six.

I. Like as the Hart (Choir of New College, Oxford/Robert Quinney). Novum CD NCR 1392.

The words of Psalm 42, at once desperate and yet full of yearning for God’s presence and love, are the recurring theme of Catherine Clover's novel The Templar’s Garden. But is it possible to create an album of the same text without each track sounding as if it is on a continual loop? In fact, it is. As the listener will hear, each composer has his own distinct way of setting the psalm. From plainchant, to unaccompanied and accompanied motets, to hymns, the words and melodies flow gracefully from one into the next, creating a seamless progression of styles covering nearly six centuries of  musical composition without a hint of repetition. Some composers highlight the pathos in the opening verses; others take a more upbeat approach; while others plot a course from desolation to hope.

From Gramophone: A collection of settings of Psalm 42 in various translations curated by Catherine Alette Clover, author of New College-themed novel The Templar’s Garden – not quite the return to this choir’s vital and significant recording work (Bach, Pergolesi, Ludford, Blow) that I so sorely missed reviewing their ‘favourite anthems’ disc (8/17) but hey, you can’t win them all…

What you do get here is further evidence, as on the previous issue, of the choir’s tightening blend and discipline under Robert Quinney, but also the concurrent preservation of its stringy, soloistic tone. That’s why New College Choir has always suited Baroque music best and that’s why the most successful pieces here are Handel’s As pants the hart (variegated, full of expression, impressively taken solos, no sanded edges), Buxtehude’s Quemadmodum desiderat cervus (ditto, but Baroque strings or bows would have been nice) and Schütz’s setting of the same text. If Quinney were to tame his soloists’ tendencies to slightly overblow blossoming phrases and sustained notes, a Schütz recording from his choir could be fascinating.

He can control it, and so can they – as witness, in a different aesthetic, Howells’s Like as the hart. The piece is sung brashly by the best choirs around. Quinney and his singers lend it the appropriate Fauré-like restraint, organist Joseph Laming shifts the colours deliciously on New College’s clattering box of whistles without drawing attention to the fact, and the result is pure balm. Alexander L’Estrange’s newly commissioned As the chased hart sounds like a bad pastiche of Howells improvised by an inebriated barbershop quartet. Antony Pitts’s strophic Why restless, why cast down? is a fascinating neo-hymnic Rubik’s cube of a piece, though it needs a more confident and shaded performance than it gets here.  

  1. Sicut serves - Johannes Ockeghem
  2. Sicut cervus - Sitivit anima mea - Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
  3. E'en like the hunted hind - Thomas Tallis
  4. Quemadmodum desiderata serves - John Taverner
  5. Quemadmodum desiderata serves - Heinrich Schütz
  6. Why restless, why cast down? - Antony Pitts
  7. Quemadmodum desiderata serves - Dietrich Buxtehude
  8. As pants the hart - George Frideric Handel
  9. Like as the hart - Herbert Howells
  10. As the chased hart - Alexander L’Estrange

II. Lux Aeterna (The Gesualdo Six/Owain Park). Hyperion CD CDA68388.

From Owain Park: Grief touches all of us at some point during our lives, affecting each person in different ways. The music on this album is intended to illustrate some of the possible emotions therein, exploring musical responses to mourning and loss. In broad terms we focus on three perspectives: uncertainty, acknowledgement and hope.

Tallis and Byrd beautifully capture a sense of powerlessness in their works, asking for forgiveness and protection. The pieces by Tavener and Morales present a series of questions, seeking reassurance for those whose lives are at an end. Settings by Eleanor Daley and Joanna Marsh call on us to enjoy all that life has to offer, with a reminder not to let grief overwhelm us.

When putting this album together, we particularly wanted to explore shades of positivity: there is hope to be found in knowing that the good someone has brought into the world will live on after they have passed. If you like, this is a sequence for the souls of the departed, to be heard by those who remember them.

  • Keep me as the apple of an eye  Neil Cox (b.1955)
  • In ieiunio et fletu  Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)
  • Lumen  Donna McKevitt (b.1970)
  • Funeral Ikos  Sir John Tavener (1944-2013) 
  • And there was war in heaven  Howard Skempton (b.1947) 
  • Parce mihi, Domine  Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553)
  • Peccantem me quotidie  William Byrd (1539/40-1623)
  • Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts Z58c  Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
  • Sequence: In Parenthesis  Owain Park (b.1993)
  • For the fallen  Douglas Guest (1916-1996)
  • In remembrance  Eleanor Daley (b.1955)
  • Present yourselves as a living sacrifice  James O’Donnell (b.1961)
  • I take thee  Joanna Marsh (b.1970)
  • Communio: Lux aeterna  Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553)
  • A Good-Night  Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012)

III. Thomas Tallis & William Byrd: Cantiones Sacrae 1575 (Alamire/David Skinner). Obsidian CD 706.

In 1575 ‘Thomas ‘Tallis then an ‘aged man’, and his pupil and friend William Byrd, who was in his mid to late 30s, paid tribute to Elizabeth 1 by selecting 17 motets each for their Cantiones Sacrae (‘Sacred Songs’), the first major printed collection of music to be published in England.

Many of these works have since become staple in the repertoire of church and chamber choirs throughout the world.

This is the first recording to present the Cantiones in their entirety, by the same group of singers, and in the composers’ original order of publication.

CD 1

  1. Salvator mundi [i] (Tallis) 2.39
  2. Absterge, Domine (Tallis) 5.28
  3. In manus tuas (Tallis) 1.51
  4. Emendemus in melius (Byrd) 3.02
  5. Libera me, Domine, et pone (Byrd) 7.14
  6. Peccantem me quotidie (Byrd) 6.16
  7. Mihi sutem nimis (Tallis) 1.57
  8. O nata lux (Tallis) 1.41
  9. O sacrum convivium (Tallis) 3.08
  10. Aspice, Domine quia facta est (Byrd) 4.53
  11. Attolite portas (Byrd) 4.40
  12. O lux beata Trinitias (Byrd) 4.08
  13. Derelinquat impius (Tallis) 3.19
  14. Dum transisset sabbatum (Tallis) 3.59
  15. [Honor] virtus et potestas (Tallis) 3.52
  16. [Sermone blando…] Illae dum pergunt concite (Tallis) 4.55
  17. Laudate pueri Dominum (Byrd) 4.02
  18. Memento homo (Byrd) 2.41
  19. Siderum rector (SCTBarB) 2.37
  20. Te lucis ante terminum [festal setting] (Tallis) 1.59


  1. Te lucis ante terminum [ferial setting] (Tallis) 1.41
  2. Salvator mundi [ii] (Tallis) 2.26
  3. [Candidi] facti sunt (Tallis) 2.02
  4. Da mihi auxilium (Byrd) 7.04
  5. Domine secundum actum meum (Byrd) 7.29
  6. Diliges Dominum (Byrd) 3.08
  7. In ieiunio et fletu (Tallis) 4.15
  8. Suscipe quaeso Domine / Si enim iniquitates (Tallis) 7.17
  9. Miserere mihi Domine (Byrd) 2.29
  10. Tribue Domine / Te deprecor / Gloria patri qui creavit (Byrd) 10.57
  11. Libera me Domine de morte (Byrd) 3.59
  12. Miserere nostri Domine (Tallis) 2.46

Composer Info

Johannes Ockeghem, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585), John Taverner (1944-2013), Heinrich Schütz, Antony Pitts, Dietrich Buxtehude, George Frideric Handel, Herbert Howells, Alexander L’Estrange, Neil Cox (b.1955), Donna McKevitt (b.1970), Howard Skempton (b.1947) , Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553), William Byrd (1539/40-1623), Henry Purcell (1659-1695), Owain Park (b.1993), Douglas Guest (1916-1996), Eleanor Daley (b.1955), James O’Donnell (b.1961), Joanna Marsh (b.1970), Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012),

CD Info

Novum CD NCR 1392, Hyperion CD CDA68388, Obsidian CD 706