Western Wind: Mass by John Taverner & Court Music for Henry VIII

Taverner Choir & Players, Andrew Parrott
Avie AV2352
Music by Aston, Cornysh, Henry VIII, Anon + chant

The Taverner Western Wind mass was the first music of the period I had seen and heard while I was in Cambridge (1958-61). For later scores, refer to Early English Church Music 30 & 35. The Mass has a wide range (G2, C2, C3 & F4), with a range from top C to bottom F– so no justification is required for raising to a minor third, as used to be the custom. The ecclesiastical items take the main part, but there are refreshingly short secular pieces. The approach is primarily music rather than religion, often with secular breaks, such as the between the the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus, though the Kyrie & Gloria naturally follow (the former is chant and not linked to the Taverner mass). The choir comprises SATB (5433) with female sopranos and altos, which Andrew Parrott has generally favoured: the balance is excellent. The soloists in the smaller pieces are Emily Van Evera and Charles Daniels.

The Mass ends at No l1 and is followed be a series from “The Music of the Court of Henry VIII” (Musica Britannica, 18) from nos. 12 and 14-16, edited by my main teacher at Magdalene, John Stevens (whom I got to know very well), which accounts for my early enthusiasm. Subsequently, I was more interested in Andrew Parrott in Oxford. Yow and I  (12) is a typical chorus/verse (a format familiar for modern churches using strumming guitars) by Cornysh Jr, though the verses are simple improvisations. Aston’s keyboard Hornpipe  (13) is impressive (from Mus.Brit. lxvi no. 36) but Cornysh’s Fa la sol  (15) is a substantial and elaborate piece (6’ 58”) and is followed by Henry VIII’s Taunder naken, one of many versions throughout Europe.

Taverner returns for Audivi vocem  (17) and Dum transisset sabbatum  (19). The former is for high voices (G2, C1, C2, C2), with the top part hoisted an octave above the chant. The plainsong was sung by trebles, despite the tenor pitch (EECM 30 prints it as octave treble). The latter is for C4, C4, C4, F4: the two upper parts are similar, the third part is a cantus firmus and the lowest is a typical bass. The booklet is full of information without being too complicated. The layout is likely to refresh the mind and the performers are excellent, aided by the learned director, Andrew Parrott.

Clifford Bartlett