GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2019
lines), both framing choruses generate an apt Handelian majesty, though I wish he had encouraged a hushed, awed choral tone at Dryden’s vision of the ‘last and dreadful hour’.
Choice between Butt’s recording and its two immediate rivals will boil down to individual taste. My own narrow preference is still for Pinnock, not least for the mingled warmth and grandeur Felicity Lott brings to the soprano solos. But no Handel lover is likely to be disappointed with a disc whose attractions are enhanced by a vivid performance of the A minor Concerto grosso (its opening movement truly affettuoso) and Butt’s own superb, wide-ranging booklet essay. Richard Wigmore (12/18) Selected comparisons: Pinnock (1/87R) (ARCH) 474 549-2ABL King (A/04) (HYPE) CDA67463
Monteverdi Vespro della Beata Vergine Dorothee Mields, Barbora Kabátková sops Benedict Hymas, William Knight, Reinoud Van Mechelen, Samuel Boden tens Peter Kooij, Wolf Matthias Friedrich basses Collegium Vocale Gent / Philippe Herreweghe PHI F b LPH029 (88’ • DDD • T/t)
Philippe Herreweghe’s 1986 recording of Monteverdi’s Vespers had an oratorio-style nobility, soft choral wooliness, stately measured speeds and cautiously deliberate rhythms in quick music. He fielded violas on the inner string parts, cello and contrabass string instruments playing much of the time, prominent bassoon on selected bass lines (eg the ostinato in ‘Laetatus sum’), copious recorder and brass doubling and prominent harpsichord continuo – although he had caught early on to Andrew Parrott’s argument that chiavette clefs in ‘Lauda Jerusalem’ and the Magnificat require downward transposition.
Over 30 years later, Herreweghe’s radical rethinking yields shaded flexibility and kaleidoscopic dynamism. For a demonstration of his evolved approach, try the precision, transparent contrapuntal detail and focused Italianate sonorities of ‘Nisi Dominus’, the streamlined and conversational ‘Ave maris stella’ and the lively fantasy of the instrumentalists in the dancelike Sonata sopra Sancta Maria – all of them infinitely fresher and less self-consciously mannered than used to be the case.
The eight soloists (with high tenor instead of countertenor on the alto part) now sing throughout all choral pieces, reinforced only occasionally by 14 ripieno singers in tutti passages (for example, at the climactic doxologies). Collegium Vocale Gent field about the same number of instrumentalists as in 1986 but their constitution and application are considerably different – there are neither bowed string bass instruments nor bassoon, violas da gamba are used instead of violas and cellos, the recorders, cornetts (led expertly by Bruce Dickey) and trombones tend to play where the rubrics in Monteverdi’s 1610 publication demand them – thereby making a more selective and thrilling impact. The applications of continuo instrumentation (with an extra theorbo) and manner of their playing are subtler nowadays. The performing pitch is higher, in line with scholarly thinking. The only significant preserved element is that Herreweghe still inserts brief plainsong antiphons before every largescale concertato psalm and the Magnificat. Not a liturgical reconstruction, the chants construct architectural sequences of triptychs with a psalm, solo ‘concerto’ or hymn as their centrepieces.
There is judicious tightrope-walking between the disciplined unleashing of splendid sonorities (the trombones at the closing of the Magnificat pack a surprisingly visceral punch) and exquisite intimacy in smaller-scale solo music performed with impeccable skill. Reinoud Van Mechelen’s gently stylish ‘Nigra sum’, Dorothee Mields and Barbora Kabátková’s rapturous ‘Pulchra es’ and Samuel Boden’s sweetly eloquent ‘Audi coelum’ (with sensitive echoes from Benedict Hymas) are exceptionally beautiful. One never senses a dictating ego controlling proceedings; there is a spirit of collective chamber music-making from all participants that is classy, articulate and unerringly beguiling. Recordings of the 1610 Vespers are twoa-penny but very few have delighted and impressed me as much as this. David Vickers (10/18) Selected comparison: Herreweghe (2/88) (HARM) D HMG50 1247/8 or HMX290 1247/8
‘A Rose Magnificat’ Howells Salve regina Lane There is no rose Leighton Of a rose is all my song MacMillan Ave maris stella M Martin A Rose Magnificat Park Ave maris stella Sheppard Ave maris stella Tallis Videte miraculum Warlock As dew in Aprylle R White Magnificat Wylkynson Salve regina Gabrieli Consort / Paul McCreesh Signum F SIGCD536 (78’ • DDD • T/t)
The soprano solo that opens Leighton’s Of a rose is all my song flowers out of frosty silence, gradually pushing out its shoots into a full-blooming, modal melody that seems to belong at once to the 15th-century world of its text and to the 20th of its composer. It’s an extraordinary marriage of music and text, and an evocative start for this exquisitely crafted recital of English Marian motets and Magnificats from the Gabrieli Consort and Paul McCreesh.
The vogue for pairing Renaissance and contemporary choral works is well established but this is a programme that draws the dialogue between the two repertories into fresh animation. Sharing not only their polyphonic textures but also their medieval and Renaissance texts and modal harmonies, these are works whose musical tradition and genealogy is still a living concern (and not just alive but interestingly so), as we hear in pieces by Jonathan Lane, Owain Park and Matthew Martin.
Britten is the missing link in a programme that starts with the ‘virile polyphony’ of the Eton Choirbook and Wylkynson’s Salve regina (its vast Gothic architecture boldly carved by the consort) and ends with the disc’s title-track, newly commissioned from Matthew Martin, going by way of Tallis, Warlock and Howells. It’s his ghost that lingers over both Lane’s There is no rose, which nods to the earlier composer’s Hymn to the Virgin, and Park’s Ave maris stella, with its Brittenish way with a scale – at once ingenuous and ingenious. Performances are pristine: carefully balanced and always cleanly tuned, and a more muscular, characterful top line offers a welcome contrast to some of the ensemble’s English rivals. McCreesh’s ear for a contemporary classic is unerring, and this is a programme to win new audiences for composers who aren’t (yet) household names. The Park and Lane, along with MacMillan’s Ave maris stella, are easy wins but it’s Martin’s A Rose Magnificat that demands a second and third return to the disc. This large-scale troped setting (which holds the lovely ‘There is no rose’ within its liturgical text) is a major new work, and one whose densely virtuoso choral writing and clever construction are married to a really tender treatment of text. Alexandra Coghlan (7/18)
10 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2019