Music of the Realm: Tudor music for men’s voices

The Queen’s Six
63:56
Resonus RES10146

This is an outstanding recording which merits many sales and wide distribution. While most of the pieces are, in context, relatively familiar fare, one would expect usually to hear them sung by an ensemble containing a top line of trebles (such as a cathedral choir) or sopranos (such as a chamber choir). Such is the expertise of these six male singers – two countertenors, two tenors, a baritone and a bass – that there is no sense of strain at either extremity, and the overall sound is perfectly balanced, grainy enough to render individual parts audible, but smooth enough for a good blend (with apologies for beginning to resemble an advertisement for coffee, or indeed whiskey – not the worst of analogies, perhaps). As to the musical content, two composers come out of this recording particularly well. Of the three pieces by Byrd, Attend mine humble prayer is one of two premieres on this disc – the last of his seven penitential psalms which begin his Songs of sundrie natures of 1589. Only two more of these small gems have ever been recorded, so it would be excellent if The Queen’s Six were able to incorporate the rest into future programmes; with “compleat” recordings of several sections of his output in recent years, there are ever fewer premieres on disc of pieces by Byrd, but many of his songs still remain to be commercially recorded, as do some of his Anglican works. Morley also features well, also with three recordings including a premiere, though this is somewhat “left field”: Haec dies is in fact a clever adaptation of an untexted “Aria” a3 from his A plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke of 1597, where it appears on page 68. (Frustratingly this information is not supplied by Peter Phillips in his otherwise adequate notes.) Morley also benefits from the presence of the sublime Laboravi in gemitu meo, his apparent steal from Philippe Rogier, though whether Morley was really passing it off as his own is not proven. Like Morley, Tomkins was a pupil of Byrd, and he too has three works here, including the wonderful sacred song Turn unto the Lord. Amongst a consistently fine set of interpretations, the Six’s version of his profound Almighty God the fountain of all wisdom is particularly intense, as is their rendering of his setting of When David heard, and the setting by Weelkes is also included, beside his less familiar O Jonathan and O how amiable. Two well-known pieces each by Gibbons and Tallis, including the latter’s substantial Videte miraculum, complete a rewarding programme.

Richard Turbet