O gemma clairissima

Music in praise of St Catharine
The Choirs of St Catharine’s College Cambridge, Edward Wickham
resonus RES10246
Music by Fawkyner, Frye, Gombert, Jacquet of Mantua, Mouton, Palestrina, Regnart, Senfl, Vermont, Willaert, anon + sarum chant

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The combined forces of St Catharine’s College and Girls’ Choirs are directed by Edward Wickham in this recital of hymns, motets and chants devoted to the martyr St Catharine, after whom both the Catherine Wheel and the Cambridge College are named. The elaborate and gruesome means of Catharine’s martyrdom captured the Medieval imagination, and Renaissance and Medieval settings of texts relating to the saint abound. The choirs sing relevant plainchant and polyphony by Regnart, Senfl, Willaert, Mouton, Frye, Gombert and Palestrina as well as by the less familiar Pierre Vermont, Jacquet de Mantua and Richard Fawkyner. The singing is generally nice and expressive, although there is a slight ‘herd ethic’ resulting perhaps from the combination of the two choirs. The particular demands of Walter Frye’s Kyrie ‘Deus Creator omnium’ and the Eton Choirbook intricacy of Fawkyner’s ‘Gaude rosa sine spinas’ (a 15-minute choral tour de force) inspire some of the finest singing on the CD. The Girls’ Choir also makes some lovely contributions on their own, while the combined voices generally produce a consistently full expressive sound. Edward Wickham’s intelligent direction brings out the full nuances of this largely unfamiliar music, while his wonderfully knowledgeable programme note both entertains and informs.

D. James Ross

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