Music for Windy Instruments

Sounds from the Court of James I
The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble
resonus RES10225
Music by Adson, Augustine, Jerome & Jeronimo Bassano, Croce, Alfonso Ferrabosco I & II, Ferretti, Harden, Lassus, Marenzio, Philips, Vecchi & anon

For this CD by The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, their first for the Resonus label and part of their 25th anniversary celebrations, the musicians have chosen a particularly rich seam of early wind repertoire. Both Elizabeth I and her chosen successor James I cultivated truly cosmopolitan courts which attracted musicians from throughout the continent. So at a time when lavish music for wind ensembles flourished in the likes of Venice, such music was quick to reach the British court through the likes of the Venetian Bassano family who worked in London but who also maintained contacts with home. Thus it was that music by a range of the most fashionable European composers found its way into the repertoire of the various consorts maintained by Elizabeth and James, and into the manuscripts that they played from. The loss of one of the six part-books from one of the main sources has involved a degree of reconstruction by Ian Payne. Although slightly less bombastic than some of the repertoire which graced St Mark’s in Venice, this is wonderfully sonorous music, given an added edge of excitement in this recording by the superbly daring ornamentation of the upper lines. As intriguing as the virtuosic playing of the upper cornetts is, the contribution of the tenor and mute cornetts, the former providing a wonderfully rich inner voice to the texture, while the latter sound wonderfully husky in combination with the brass instruments, is exceptional. It is easy to understand the enthusiasm of Elizabeth and James for this profound and impressive music – both sprang from musical families and each was of a famously philosophical bent. Of all the courtly music to survive, it is this flamboyant repertoire which to me seems best to match the colourful costumes and extravagant manners of the 16th and 17th centuries. Silas Wollston provides pleasing contrasting works for solo harpsichord in addition to joining the wind consort on some tracks, although I must say that I could listen all day to the wonderfully evocative sounds of the wind instruments played with such musicality and sparkling virtuosity. Incidentally, the quirky title seems to derive indirectly from a quote from a 1534 volume dealing with health which recommends the playing of wind instruments to exercise the entrails…

D. James Ross

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