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balance between intricate detail and overall sonority is very well rendered. Finally, a note to all you John Browne ‘completists’ out there: here is the first recording in nearly 50 years of Browne’s O mater  venerabilis. A bonus track from the sessions not included for reasons of space (Lambe’s Nesciens mater) is available on the major streaming sites. Fabrice Fitch (November 2014)

‘The Spy’s Choirbook’ ‘Petrus Alamire & the Court of Henry VIII’ Alamire; English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble / David Skinner Obsidian B b CD712 (115’ • DDD • T/t)

Almost 50 choirbooks now survive from the copying workshop of Petrus Alamire, who happens to have been active as a political informer alongside his more upfront activities as a singer, composer and music copyist. The lovely choirbook in the British Library has Henry VIII’s coat of arms on the first motet, and David Skinner here proposes that it was a personal gift from Alamire to the king in about 1516 – though nobody has yet convincingly contradicted Honey Meconi’s carefully argued proposal (1998) that it was a diplomatic gift from Margaret of Austria at the end of Henry VIII’s French campaign of June to October 1513.

Either way, what we have here is a complete recording of the entire choirbook in its manuscript order: 34 four-voice motets from the first decade of the century by French and Franco-Flemish composers, giving a magnificent panorama of the repertory. Most of them have never been recorded before. Most of the music is performed by the mixed voices alone, a small group sounding gorgeous throughout. For a few particularly grand motets they are joined by the wind players, who perform alone in five of the pieces. But perhaps the main thrill is the sequence of five settings of Dido’s last speech from the Aeneid, Dulces  exuvie, by La Rue (possibly), Agricola, Josquin, Mouton and Ghiselin, then immediately followed by one of the most haunting motets of all time, Absalon fili mi, ascribed elsewhere to Josquin but now widely believed to be by Pierre de la Rue. David Fallows (January 2015)

‘Au Sainct nau’ Anonymous Conditor alme syderum. Conditor le jour de Noel. O gras tondus Anonymous/ Hollande Plaisir n’ay plus que vivre en

Gramophone awards shortList 2015

desconfort Arcadelt Missa Noe noe – Kyrie; Agnus Dei Costeley Allons gay bergiere Du Caurroy Fantaisies – No 4 sur Conditor alme syderum; No 30 sur Une jeune fillette; No 31 sur Une jeune fillette. Une jeune pucelle Goudimel Esprits divins, chantons dans la nuit sainte Janequin Il estoyt une fillette Mouton Noe noe psallite noe Pieton O beata infantia Sermizy Au bois de dueil. Dison Nau à pleine teste. L’on sonne une cloche. Vous perdez temps heretiques infames Ensemble Clément Janequin; Trio Musica Humana / Dominique Visse Alpha F ALPHA198 (66’ • DDD)

It feels like a long time since the last release from Ensemble Clément Janequin.

They’ve been going for about 35 years, and new recordings have been rarer in recent years, but this one is as impressive in its way as anything I’ve heard from them, and that’s saying something.

This musical tableau dramatises the different attitudes to Christmas at the mid-point of the 16th century. It opens with a seasonal plainsong hymn, solemnly intoned, albeit to a ternary lilt. Immediately there follows a parody set to the same tune, and initially sung in the same way, but before the verse is out the tone has begun to change as the text enumerates the victuals gathered at the festive table and describes their increasingly marked effects on the assembled company, the words slurred, the pitching and rhythm listing more and more. It’s classic Dominique Visse, and it had me laughing aloud. Thereafter, the disc alternates sacred and secular with immaculate poise. The former is beautifully done – the accompaniment on chamber organ is reminiscent of their past work in this register – and the latter delivered as lustily as ever. Harking back to the ensemble’s Protestant psalm project, French chansons have their frankly smutty texts replaced by touching depictions of the Nativity. Towards the conclusion, the tension between Protestants and Catholics bursts out into open hostility in a series of musical pamphlets, in which the two faiths consign each other to the devil with equal venom (and, it must be said, relish).

The ensemble continues to do what it does best but retains a freshness and questing spirit that sometimes eludes groups of comparable vintage, a sense of joyous music-making that marked them out from the start and which they’ve never lost. It was utterly infectious then, and it still is. Fabrice Fitch (February 2015)

‘In the Midst of Life’ ‘Music from the Baldwin Partbooks, Vol 1’ Byrd Audivi vocem de caelo. Circumdederunt dolores mortis Gerarde Sive vigilem Mundy Sive vigilem Parsons Credo quod redemptor meus vivit. Libera me Domine. Peccantem me quotidie Sheppard Media vita Tallis Nunc dimittis Taverner Quemadmodum Contrapunctus / Owen Rees Signum F SIGCD408 (68’ • DDD • T/t)

Early music needs another British vocal ensemble like a meerkat needs car insurance. It’s a field that’s already standing-room only, with long-established groups jostling with younger rivals for space. But Contrapunctus are special. Their first disc, ‘Libera nos: The Cry of the Oppressed’ (Signum, 11/13), was seriously, startlingly good: the intimacy of The Cardinall’s Musick, the rich, glowing tone of The Sixteen and the textual drama of Stile Antico. Their second disc proves that this was no one-off.

It’s a shame that both the group’s name and the rather earnest cover of ‘In the Midst of Life’ (subtitled ‘Music from the Baldwin Partbooks, Vol 1’) may dissuade casual listeners from exploring the contents, because they would find much to delight here. This first selection from the rich Baldwin repertoire (Latin-texted English church music) broods on mortality, death and judgement. Works by Byrd, Tallis, Parsons and Sheppard feature alongside the odd wildcard – Dericke Gerarde’s Sive vigilem is a quietly extraordinary discovery.

Contrapunctus play a long game with this often slow-paced, meditative repertoire. These are understated performances whose moment-to-moment drama is less striking than the long, aching arcs they achieve over five or six minutes – director Owen Rees shows his experience here, making a case for a conductor in a climate in which musical democracy is increasingly king.

Choral blend is mossy-soft and balance immaculate, perfect for the yearning loveliness of Taverner’s Quemadmodum or Sheppard’s Media vita. After two discs of penitence, however, I’d love to hear something a bit more rhythmic, more energetic in their next release. If Contrapunctus can do vivid attack as well as they do misty piety, they may find themselves setting the bar in this repertoire. Alexandra Coghlan (May 2015)

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