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Gramophone awards shortList 2015

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Byrd ‘Infelix ego’ Byrd Ave Maria. Christe qui lux est. Emendemus in melius. Infelix ego. Mass for Five Voices Ferrabosco Peccantem me quotidie De Monte Miserere mei Collegium Vocale Gent / Philippe Herreweghe PHI F LPH014 (49’ • DDD)

Penitence might be the prevailing theme on this disc but there’s nothing penitential in the experience of this exquisite recording.

Herreweghe pairs Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices and large-scale motet Infelix ego with works by Ferrabosco and de Monte – a trio of composers all united, as Andrew Carwood’s booklet-notes remind us, by their Catholic faith. The result is a serious addition to the many fine recordings of this repertoire already available – not least Stile Antico’s ‘Phoenix Rising’ (Harmonia Mundi, 9/13) and Carwood’s own Byrd Edition with The Cardinall’s Musick, whose last volume (Hyperion, 4/10) was Gramophone Recording of the Year in 2010.

The big draw here is Infelix ego – Byrd’s austerely beautiful setting of Savonarola’s meditation on the Miserere, written while the friar suffered torture at the hands of the Florentine authorities. While The Cardinall’s Musick spend themselves almost too soon, so urgent is their musical drama, Herreweghe’s singers do more with less, their restraint charged with repressed intensity. Precise tuning and blend support tone so straight it would expose the slightest deviation, vocal simplicity allowing Byrd’s craggy lines to speak directly.

Speeds within the Mass are unusually fast, a little too fast perhaps, clouding details like the delicate syncopation of the Gloria, but there’s no faulting the fluidity of phrasing. This is a contemporary performance – full forces, mixed voices – that might lack the intimacy of the all-male Cardinall’s Musick recording but has a dynamism and clarity of tone that compares favourably with Stile Antico, The Tallis Scholars (Gimell, 5/84) or the rather more pastel-coloured Sixteen (Virgin, 1/91). The de Monte and Ferrabosco works are a bonus, offering a harmonic and textural richness that offsets the austerity of the Byrd we hear here. Musical penitence has rarely been so pleasurable. Alexandra Coghlan (January 2015)

Byrd . Philips

Byrd Adoramus te Christe. With lilies white. Wretched Albinus. Domine secundum actum meum. How vain the toils. Constant Penelope. Attollite portas. Haec dicit Dominus. Ah silly soul Philips Pavana & Galliardo. Passamezzo Pavan. Viae Sion lugent. Trio in the third mode. Ego sum panis/Et panis quem. Fantazias – No 1 a 6; No 2 a 6. Pavana and Galiarda Dolorosa. Trio in the first mode. Pater noster Clare Wilkinson mez The Rose Consort of Viols Deux-Elles F DXL1155 (73’ • DDD)

The pairing of the Catholics William Byrd and his student Peter Philips is logical both biographically and musically. Precisely because Byrd’s music is the better known, the opportunity to confront them in closely related genres is instructive. Byrd’s consort songs and motets are balanced by motets by Philips, with Clare Wilkinson as the soloist. The penitential tone of the vocal pieces lends the recital a clear focus, leavened by the more varied affects of the instrumental pieces by Philips that make up the remainder of the recital. These are very fine, barring the odd passage that coins the stylistic small change of the time. The ‘Dolorosa’ Pavan and Galliard pair is splendid.

These are impressive interpretations. The Rose Consort’s tone is placid and soft-centred but they cope very well with energetic passagework. This isn’t faint praise, for there’s surely room for a more relaxed approach than the exhilarated calisthenics of Phantasm. Clare Wilkinson turns in perhaps the finest performances I can remember from her in this repertory. The elegy for Lady Margaret Montague, With lilies white, is particularly memorable. It bears a strong resemblance to the betterknown laments for Sir Philip Sidney and Thomas Tallis. A nice touch is the use of period anglicised Latin pronunciation for the Byrd motets and Roman pronunciation for Philips’s, but whether the latter would have applied in the Low Countries where Philips worked is a moot point. In other respects, the comparison does Philips no harm at all. Fabrice Fitch (Awards 2014)

‘Courts of Heaven’ ‘Music from The Eton Choirbook, Vol 3’ Browne O mater venerabilis Fawkyner Gaude virgo salutata Hampton Salve regina Turges Gaude flore virginali Wylkynson Salve regina Christ Church Cathedral Choir / Stephen Darlington Avie F AV2314 (76’ • DDD • T/t)

This third helping of Eton Choirbook music will gladden all those interested in this fascinating repertory. The commitment shown to this series by both label and performers alike is anyway remarkable in these straitened times. Moreover, it has contributed to the discography in two important respects: first, by almost single-handedly championing the performances of this repertory with boy trebles, the voice-type for which the treble parts were composed; and second, by focusing more than any earlier ensemble on previously unrecorded pieces. This is not merely a matter of ‘filling in the gaps’. It was more difficult to evaluate the major Eton figures (chiefly Browne, Lambe, Davy) when the music of their lesserknown colleagues was accessible only on paper; besides, Darlington’s selection is of such quality that the gap between major and minor figures is rather narrower than I, for one, had supposed. A case in point is Fawkyner, whose entire surviving output (all of two pieces) can now be heard thanks to this series.

The programme alternates antiphons with trebles and without. The stamina shown by the trebles is at all times remarkable, and this particular crop raises the recording nearer to the level of the first in the series than did the second. Their resilience might have been taxed less if tempi in duple-time selections had been just a touch faster, but in general the


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