LOQUEBANTUR: Music from the Baldwin partbooks

The Marian Consort, conducted by Rory McCleery. The Rose Consort of Viols, led by John Bryan.
66:12
Delphian DCD34160

This superb disc manages to be both rewarding and frustrating: rewarding, because of the fine performances and excellent repertory; frustrating, because so many of the pieces are already available in equally distinguished recent versions, leaving other material from John Baldwin’s partbooks awaiting commercial recordings. On the one hand, it can be argued that there cannot be too many recordings of the title track, Tallis’s Loquebantur variis linguis, the luminous Whitsun Respond in seven parts which survives only in manuscript. On the other hand, the two motets by William Mundy on this disc, Adolescentulus sum ego and Adhaesit pavimento, are available in equally fine performances by Magnificat on “The Tudors at Prayer” (Linn CKD 447), while Sive vigilem by the variously spelt Derrick Gerarde (who with a name like that nowadays would be playing in goal for Tranmere Rovers) is on Signum Classics’ first disc of music from the Baldwin Partbooks “In the Midst of Life” sung superbly by Contrapunctus (SIGCD408). It all raises the question as to whether the putative purchaser would wish to own all these recordings, or would stick with just one. The latter would be a serious misjudgement because, despite the overlapping contents, all three consist of wonderful music, at least some of it not duplicated elsewhere; on the disc under review, one such work is the premiere recording of the Canon 6 in 1 by Byrd, played by The Rose Consort. These days Byrd premieres are few and far between, so this item is valuable discographically, but it is also valuable in its own right as an intriguing and delightful piece of music. It is followed appropriately by Byrd’s early motet O salutaris hostia whose violent discords are triggered by its complicated canonical construction. The Marian Consort’s interpretation does not begin as assertively as that of The Cardinall’s Musick (ASV CD GAU 178) but by the end is singeing listeners’ eardrums.

Another premiere recording is Christian Hollander’s Dum transisset Sabbatum which, despite possible first impressions, should emphatically not be dismissed as mere Franco-Flemish note-spinning. Concluding the disc is a work seldom recorded, but which becomes more remarkable as it proceeds, and which then compounds that remarkableness in subsequent hearings: this is John Sheppard’s Ave maris stella, a selection all the more welcome during what is being regarded as his quincentenary. Finally, multiple recordings have helped me out of one particular quandary. Hitherto I have been unable to decide whether I think that Taverner’s sublime six-part piece Quemadmodum, which survives with the Latin title but no text, was intended by the composer as a work for instruments or voices. Comparing the brisk performance on this disc by The Rose Consort with the more leisurely performances by Contrapunctus and Magnificat on the discs mentioned above, has convinced me that Taverner intended it as a vocal setting of Psalm XLII. For example, the sonority at the first appearance (in the modern edition) of the words “ad te Deus” is far more successful when sung; and the musical phrase accompanying the words (again in the modern edition) “et apparebo” sounds much more like a phrase that would be set to words (even if not these) rather than one composed for instruments. In summary, this is a superb disc, and however many pieces from it one might possess on other recordings, its outstanding performances, wonderful repertory and profound interpretations justify its purchase, without hesitation.

Richard Turbet