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Recording

Die Befreiung Israels

Telemann: Das befreite Israel (1759)
Rolle: Die Befreiung Israels (1774)

Miriam Feuersinger, Elvira Bill, Daniel Johannsen, André Morsch, Sebastian Myrus SmSTBB, Il Gardellino Baroque Orchestra, directed by Peter van Heygen
78:22
Passacaille 1132

This is an excellent and fascinating placement of two settings around the same subject on this CD, offering two very distinctive stylistic approaches presented by these composers side by side, and yet set some 15 years apart! There are some bold strokes of musical pictorialism, drama, and délicatesse on display from both. One should not underestimate Telemann’s ability to find a compact and cogent form here, we are in very similar compositional territory to the fervour and flexibility found in his remarkable “Donner-Ode” (TVWV6:3a/b). Interestingly, the two librettos do also partially overlap, J .F. W. Zachariae’s original poetry was expanded by the second preacher at Telemann’s baptismal Church, Heilig-Geist-Kirche in Magdeburg, one Christoph Christian Sturm, a prominent member of the Magdeburg Scholar’s club, who went on to write for C. P. E. Bach, Telemann’s godson.

The rich instrumentation is equally telling, Telemann in that vintage late-Baroque mould, Johann Heinrich Rolle of course in more Empfindsamer mode, as espoused by C. H. Graun. Telemann’s setting is concise and compact, dispensing with recitatives, which keeps the dramatic narrative flowing. The Rolle, having extra characters, including Moses, has eight recitatives, to as it were “tee-up” the following movement! Telemann’s highly imaginative orchestral movement (Track 9) is an unbounded flood of surging tones with trumpets and horns depicting the great swell of the waves, engulfing the Pharoh’s chasing army, here played with tremendous gusto! Turning to the singers now, there are some very solid performances all around. Miriam Feuersinger is sublime in the aria Pflanze sie, Herr auf den Huegeln (Track 12). Oddly, the inclusion of recitatives in the Rolle setting seemed to take it back to the Baroque, but the opening bars strike out, and the beautifully constructed arias, and arias with chorus move us to the expressive musical language of C. H. Graun, perhaps even beyond to C. P. E. Bach himself? Track 20 takes us through the stormy torrents at some pace, showing that Rolle also knew a thing or two about musical pictorialism.

It is towards the end of the Rolle work that the J. F. W. Zachariae poetry appears, and completes this juxtaposition of stylistic approaches making them truly salient in their differences! The soloists give expressive and cogent performances, which neither founder in excesses nor under-powering wilt. Il Gardellino lend an ever-bright and impressive sheen to these two fine works, especially the brass section of horns and trumpets (drums adding extra impact).

The final chorus gives the means and measure of both composers in a potent nutshell; do I detect a slightly veiled emulation by Rolle?

The recorded sound is amazing (Bruges 16-19th August 2022) and adds to the vibrancy of this warmly recommended recording moving past the more familiar Handelian work. The CD notes are most informative on the backgrounds to these two fine settings.

David Bellinger

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Recording

Handel: Solomon

Choeur de Chambre de Namur, Millenium Orchestra, directed by Leonardo García Alarcón
152:08 (2 CDs)
Ricercar RIC 449

By 1748 Handel was becoming increasingly affected by age, yet for one last time he managed to complete two oratorios for the forthcoming season, Solomon, first given at Covent Garden in March 1749 and the contrasting Susanna, premiered the previous month. If Handel was feeling the effects of old age by the time he came to compose Solomon, the oratorio shows no sign of it, being one of the most infectiously exuberant works he had composed since his early Italian sojourn.

Solomon is unusual in several respects. Although it ostensibly has a biblical setting, writers have not been slow to find metaphor in its anonymous libretto. Not the least of them is that for Solomon we might read George II, a view advanced by the writer of the notes for the present set and one not so far removed from Christopher Hogwood’s suggestion that the work is a pageant, a celebration of Georgian England. That was an idea modified and expanded to include political discourse in the scholarly essay by Ruth Smith that accompanies Paul McCreesh’s outstanding Archive recording (1998).

Whatever the intentions of the work or otherwise, it was not especially successful for reasons that do not include the quality of the music, much of which can be accounted as being some of the greatest Handel wrote. One conceivable explanation is that the work is less religious in tenor than some of the other oratorios. While the opening numbers praise God on the occasion of the completion of the Temple, the second scene is a glorification of human love between Solomon and his Queen (or just one of them; he is said to have had 700 wives, not to mention 300 concubines!), a celebration expressed in ecstatic terms not least by the Queen (‘On my bosom as he lay, when he call’d my charms divine’) and here given added sensual allure by the quasi-coquettish performance of soprano Gwendoline Blondeel. This was not the kind of thing to which Handel’s oratorio audiences were accustomed and it is perhaps unsurprising that Solomon not only was dropped quickly from the London repertoire, but never made it to the provincial festivals that voraciously lapped up Handel oratorios. Act 2 is largely given over to further eulogies to Solomon, this time within the context of praising his wisdom, illustrated by the story of the two harlots seeking his judgment. This episode is the dramatic core of the work and Handel drew on his long operatic experience to create splendidly differentiated portrayals of the women, the mother in deeply touching terms, the pretender in brittle, shallow utterances. It is perhaps regrettable that the present recording uses the same sopranos as for Solomon’s queen and the Queen of Sheba, though since both are outstanding it does ensure this pivotal episode is heard to the best advantage. Indeed the wonderful pastoral simplicity of the mother’s siciliano enchantingly sung by Ana Marie Labin is one of the set’s highlights. Labin is also a radiant Queen of Sheba in act 3, also largely devoted to praise of Solomon, this time as a mentor of the queen. Not until the overwhelming double chorus ‘Praise the Lord’, one of Handel’s very grandest does God get much of a look in during this act. Incidentally, like McCreesh but not Eliot Gardiner, who moves ‘Praise the Lord’ to the final number, Alarcón correctly keeps it in the published order, where it makes more sense following Zadok’s preceding aria.

Following on from his superb Semele, Alarcón’s Solomon is magnificent. A live performance given in Namur in July 2022, it is from the outset characterised by an irresistible joie de vivre in which contemplation and sensitivity are also given due recognition. Not the least of reasons for its success are the excellent orchestral playing (the legato playing of the strings is ravishing) and the quite magnificent choral singing of the Namur Chamber Choir, now surely the finest of its kind anywhere. The big choruses with brass and timpani are overwhelming in their impact, particularly given some truly thunderous, yet precise timpani playing. There is no weak link among the soloists. Countertenor Christopher Lowrey is an outstanding Solomon (a role Handel wrote for a female alto), encompassing the many aspects of the role in a commanding performance. Andreas Wolf brings unusual precision and a magnificently black bass to the role of the Levite, while American-born tenor Matthew Newlin copes well if not flawlessly with the demanding writing Handel gave to Zadok the High Priest. Mention has already been made of the two outstanding sopranos, but I must return to Labin to praise her outstanding technique and in particular her impressive chest notes and trill, extended, deep and beautifully articulated. Suffice it to say that is not emulated by the other singers, but ornamentation is generally stylishly applied, if conservative in conception. The superfluous addition of an archlute to the continuo is here not too damaging, it being kept more under control than is often the case.

While not displacing the McCreesh recording, which features an outstanding Solomon in Andreas Scholl, there is a special life-enhancing quality about Alarcón’s Solomon that makes it irresistible, essential listening for anyone that loves this music and a must-hear for those yet to fall under its spell.

Brian Robins

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Recording

Ein Deutsches Barockrequiem

Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
78:58
Ricercar RIC445

This characteristic CD from Vox Luminis is the result of a reflection on the tradition of providing a set of scriptural settings of passages that might be suitable to provide music for a funeral, as was the case in Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem.

Lionel Meunier and Vox Luminis had recorded Schütz’s Musicalische Exequiem in 2010 – and it was one of the recordings which helped make their name. Here they have done something different. They have searched out texts that are either similar to or the same as those used by Brahms around two hundred years later, and the result is a well-constructed series of motets and Psalm settings from 17th-century German composers, some of which I knew, but many of whom I had never heard before. While some of them are for voices and continuo, in combinations for two equal cori, others are coloured by a five-part string ensemble with continuo, and one – by Christian Geist – voices with two tenor and one bass viol with continuo.

As might be expected, this scoring provides a sombre overall feel to the disc, which is the perfect vehicle for the clear sonorities of Vox Luminis. The attention to each other’s vocal lines, and their expert tuning in the clean temperament provided by the fine organ by Dominique Thomas in the north transept of the Église Notre-Dame de la Nativité at Gedinne in Belgium make it difficult to imagine a better performance. Singers and organ, with instrumental colouring at times, is the foundational sound with which Bach and his musical forebears grew up. And this CD is important in locking this sound into our minds as we get used to hearing just the same kind of sounds in J. S. Bach’s pre-Leipzig cantatas.

Many people record their favourite Bach, but in spite of using period instruments, not many use the right kind of organ with a substantial sound in the hands of an expert like Bart Jacobs. And few have adult singers that can set aside their modern vocal techniques and sing together like the boys from the German Lutheran boys’ choirs still do.

So this is another CD to savour, and to marvel at the similarities and the differences in the choice of texts and the manner of setting them that this admirable recording does in these works by Scharmann, Selle, Schein, Geist, Tobias Michael, Briegel, Hammerschmidt, Schwemmer and Förtsch. A CD to treasure for many reasons, but especially for the outstanding sense of group ownership.

David Stancliffe

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Recording

Mozart in Milan

Robin Johannsen soprano, Carlo Vistoli countertenor, Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, conducted by Giulio Prandi
76:58
Arcana A 538

‘Mozart in Milan’ the cover modestly announces. Modestly because it’s not just Mozart. This excellent and well-filled disc also contains works by Johann Christian Bach, who as a young man spent some years in Italy, where he became a Roman Catholic. Of specific interest is the period he spent in Milan (1757-62) under the patronage of Count Agostino Litta and remote tutelage by the famous authority on counterpoint, Padre Martini of Bologna. Then there is the scarcely known Giovanni Andrea Fioroni, a native of Pavia appointed maestro di cappella of Milan Cathedral in 1747, and the even more obscure Melchiorre Chiesa, maestro al cembalo at the Regio Ducale theatre and later La Scala in addition to holding a number of posts as an organist.

We know from an admiring letter of Leopold Mozart that Chiesa took over as second harpsichordist after Mozart ceased to direct his new opera Mitridate (of which in keeping with the custom of the day he directed only the first three performances) at the Reggio Ducale in December 1770. Mitridate was the first product of a commission received by the teenage Mozart from Count Firmian, Governor-General of Lombardy – Milan then being in territory ruled by the Habsburgs – for three operas, the last of which was Lucio Silla, first performed in December 1772. It was for the leading man of Lucio Silla, the famous castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, that a couple of weeks later Mozart wrote the motet Exsultate, jubilate, K165. The motet is here sung by the US soprano, Robin Johannsen. Charles Burney’s description of Rauzzini as having a ‘sweet and extensive voice, a rapid brilliance of execution great expression and an exquisite and judicious taste’ might easily have been tailored to Johannsen’s performance, which is, quite simply, one of the very best of this frequently performed showpiece I have heard. The ability to cope with the bravura writing of the opening aria and concluding ‘Alleluja’ are not so uncommon, but what is rare is the care and insight Johannsen brings to colouring the text. One example must suffice; the final line of the second, lyrical aria concludes with a perfectly executed trill on the final word ‘cor’, which the singer allows to swell slightly, thus bringing added fervour to the final plea – ‘console our feelings from which our hearts sigh’.

It would be interesting to know the date of composition of Chiesa’s solo motet for alto, Caelo tonati, for it follows precisely the same form as Exsultate, jubilate, which is to say a bravura aria followed by a recitative and concluded by a cantabile largo and Alleluja. The text takes the familiar operatic metaphor of stormy seas to express the torments of the sinful soul, the second aria a plea for peace and light. If lacking the musical quality of the Mozart, it makes for a fine virtuoso showpiece, here receiving its first recording. It is sung with great accuracy and intensity by countertenor Carlo Vistoli, whose performance would be a match for Johannsen’s if he had a less approximate, more sustained trill. As it is, there is much left to admire in the astonishing bravura singing, especially the ornamentation and passaggi of the recap of the opening aria.  

The J C Bach works are Vespers pieces, the composition of which was overseen by Padre Martini and first performed in Milan, a Dixit Dominus of 1758, and a Magnificat in C from 1760, one of three settings Bach made of the text during this period. The former is also a first recording. They combine contrapuntal passages with homophony and have a typical layout, being divided into a succession of movements, in the case of Dixit clearly demarcated into choral and solo aria movements, while the Magnificat employs a concertante solo SATB group that emerges from the chorus. Both are highly attractive pieces, displaying Bach’s familiar Rococo melodic elegance grace in abundance.

Finally, we have a pair of brief choral works. Mozart’s Misericordias Domini, KV 222/205a is an Offertory work composed in Munich for the first Sunday of Lent in 1775. Consisting of only two lines of text, it alternates between the strict chromatic counterpoint of the first and the more lyrical homophony of the second. Fioroni’s even briefer O sacrum convivium is a largely homophonic setting of the sacramental antiphon with piquant harmonies, its reverential restraint fully justifying the esteem accorded the composer and suggesting his large sacred output would benefit from further exploration.

All these choral works are given thoroughly accomplished and committed performances by Coro Ghislieri under its experienced founder and director, Giulio Prandi. In the Bach Dixit Dominus, the tenor and bass soloists are respectively Raffaele Giordani and Alessandro Ravasio, the latter particularly impressing in the aria ‘De torrente’, sung with secure tone, excellently articulated fioritura and concluding with an almost unheard of rarity – a finely executed trill by a bass. An exceptionally rewarding CD that will fully engage the attention of anyone interested in mid-18th-century sacred music.

Brian Robins

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News

Podcasts from Paris

Fans of the French Baroque are in for a real treat if they visit https://expodcast.cmbv.fr/en – six podcasts have been produced by the Centre de Musique Baroque Versailles. To a rich musical backdrop, all sorts of information is shared (either in English or French) from the golden era of Louis XIV to the dawn of the Revolution. These are highly recommended!

Brian Clark

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Recording

Echoes of an Old Hall

Music from the Old Hall Manuscript
Gothic Voices
76:03
Linn CKD 644

There is always room on my shelves for a new selection of music from the Old Hall Manuscript, particularly when the music is as well sung as it is here. Gothic Voices, always leaders in the field of mediaeval and early Renaissance polyphony, bring a wealth of joint experience to this CD, and relatively obscure names such as Cooke, Mayshuet, Damett, Forest and Lymburgia are once again allowed to rub shoulders with their more celebrated contemporaries, Power, Byttering, Dunstaple, Pycard, and even the ubiquitous Binchois and Dufay. How exciting to find a five-part Gloria by John Cooke which is similar in style to and the qualitative equal of the remarkable and more familiar five-part Gloria by Power, which concludes the first part of the programme. The true masterpiece of the programme must be another five-part Gloria by Pycard which concludes the programme, and which is extremely impressive in its ruggedly conservative style. This is not just a random and generous selection of music from Old Hall though – it is extremely carefully structured, using the extraordinary ‘singers’ manifesto’ represented by the opening piece, Arae post libamini by Mayshuet de Joan, as a template. The second half of the programme, headed ‘reverberances’ is recorded partly at a distance, a radical departure for a group that in earlier times usually insisted on a very close recording ambience. This is an enthralling CD, imaginatively programmed with an excellent note by Julian Podger and compellingly performed. It will undoubtedly win many new admirers to the remarkable Old Hall Manuscript and its hugely important contents.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Pierre Colin: Trésor oublié de la Renaissance

Messes & Motets
La Note Brève
57:37
Paraty 7221120

Simon Gallot and his ensemble have done us a favour in introducing the neglected work of this mid-16th-century Burgundian composer. Although he seems to have spent his life in the relative musical backwater of Autun, Colin was scrupulous in seeing that much of his music made it to print. Still, while copies found their way into many of the great establishments of Europe, the music was often anonymous, and despite his best efforts Colin’s name lapsed into obscurity. His settings of the Mass and his motets, as well as his chansons, represented here by a performance on organ of L’oeil dict assez, are firmly in the mid-century style of the likes of Claudin. In tutti sections, the voices are accompanied by organ, an approach which suits the generally simple counterpoint rather well – the programme note suggests that Colin’s style is slightly more adventurous than the standard Parisian style of the period, with a greater tolerance of dissonance, but I can’t say that I was aware of this. However, Colin has a distinctive idiom and a thorough grasp of harmonic progressions and imitation, which means that this music is rarely dull. La Note Brève is a happy blend of male and female voices, producing a mellow sound and singing expressively. In their pursuit of authenticity, including convincing period pronunciation, this group belongs in the worthy tradition of French exploration of early choral music.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Gervais: Grands Motets

Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vahegyi
72:04
Glossa GCD 924013

Charles-Hubert Gervais (1671-1744) became one of the sous-maitres of the Chapelle du Roy in 1722, one of those to benefit from the re-establishment and re-vamping of the court’s musical institutions after the relatively austere Regency years. He composed more than 40 grands motets, some of which remained in the repertoire right up to the Revolution. These are very much ‘after Lalande’ – indeed, the elder man’s music is alluded to or even quoted from time to time – but in many respects Gervais is very much his own man. Unusually, he often reduces the orchestral texture from its traditional five parts to three (violin, viola and bass) and is inclined to eschew vocal virtuosity in favour of more restrained expressive effects, such as harmony, despite his background in the theatre.

Among the soloists, haute-contre Cyrille Dubois is the stand-out, with the range, taste, and skill to deliver his music beautifully. The other soloists are never less than good, though all are guilty from time to time of trying to do a bit too much with their music. Choir and Orchestra are also on good form, and I note that, whereas in their earlier days, there was a significant number of western European players, almost all are now home-grown.

The booklet (in English, French and German) offers its thorough and interesting essay in all three languages though the Latin texts are translated only into English and there is no information about the artists.

David Hansell

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Recording

Gervais: Grands motets

Les Ombres, Choeur du Concert Spirituel, Silvain Sartre
57:21
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS 073

Previous releases in this splendid series devoted to the grand motet repertoire and recorded in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles have been devoted to the known masters: Lully, Delalande, Rameau, and so on. Charles-Hubert Gervais will likely be a less familiar name to most prospective listeners.

Born in Paris in 1671, he spent much of his life in the service of the Duke of Orléans (the Regent from 1715), replacing his father as valet to the duke, who he assisted in the composition of two operas. In 1723 he was one of three composers (along with Campra and Nicolas Bernier) to succeed to three-quarters of Delalande’s position as sous-maître of the Chapelle Royale (traditionally a composer served as sous-maître three months of the year). He died, also in Paris, in 1744. Anecdotally Gervais apparently tried to avoid his position as sous-maître, claiming the Latin motet was not his favoured form of competition, yet, as is adequately demonstrated on the present CD, his achievements in the field merited the considerable fame and recognition granted him both in France and further afield.

The motets included here all follow the customary sectional form, with verses divided between soloists, petit choeur (solo ensemble) and grand choeur supported by orchestra comprising wind and strings. Each motet is given its own distinctive character in Gervais’s settings. Super flumina Babilonis is a setting of the well-known text of Psalm 137, ‘By the waters of Babylon’, with its dramatic juxtapositions into the largely yearning text fully exploited by the composer. The exquisitely lovely opening, announced by the orchestra and taken up by the chorus, captures all the nostalgia felt by captive Israel, the falling sequential figure an expression of intense longing. Later passages such as ‘Quia illic’ (For they that they led us into captivity), with its martial dotted rhythm introduce elements of the dramatic so strongly as to make the prospect of hearing one of Gervais’s tragedies lyrique mouth-watering.

Super flumina is a quite splendid work, arguably the pick of the three recorded here. Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100) is well known for its place in the liturgy. Gervais’s setting of it is for a work of joyous praise not inappropriately pervaded by the spirit of the dance. Introduced as a duet for two sopranos which is then taken up by the full choir, this opening is a fine example of the skill and confidence with which Gervais handles contrasting textures, both choral and orchestral. The final contrapuntal chorus (‘Be thankful to him’) is beautifully laid out and constructed. The final motet is a setting of the Miserere mei (Psalm 51), at once much the longest (it runs about half an hour) and most ambitious of those here. It is also, perhaps predictably, the most uneven, as a general observation more compelling in its penitential passages. That said it opens and ends superbly, starting with a broad, serious bass solo (well, if not outstandingly sung by Benoît Arnould) taken up first by the male voices of the chorus then the upper voices to build sonorously and impressively, a favourite procedure of the composer. The final section (‘That the walls of Jerusalem’) opens with a duet for two sopranos (Marie Perbost and Déborah Cachet, who excel in all they do in these works) before proceeding to a lively contrapuntal chorus that alternates the petit choeur with the grand, while introducing suggestions of modality. Elsewhere hints of the conventional occasionally crop up, but overall these motets reveal a composer well capable of taking his place alongside better-known names.

If marginally failing to attain the exalted level of some previous issues in the series, the performances by one of the lesser known of the profusion of ensembles that currently grace the French early music scene are extremely accomplished. Chorus and orchestra, both smaller than some that essay this repertoire, acquit themselves well, while as already intimated the soloists are first-rate, tenor Nicholas Scott particularly catching the ear among those not so far mentioned.

Brian Robins 

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Recording

Tudor Music Afterlives

Ensemble Pro Victoria, conducted by Toby Ward, Magnus Williamson, organ. Toby Carr, lute
69:27
Delphian DCD34295

This is Ensemble Pro Victoria’s successor to their rewarding recording of music celebrating the quincentenary of Fayrfax, which I reviewed. And a very successful successor this album is too. The premise on which it is based might seem a tad academic, but it produces a fascinatingly varied yet coherent programme of music, containing some staggeringly fine pieces, excellently performed.

All these pieces are caught in their afterlife, and are presumed or known to have had a prior existence. There are several strands to this programme: “extreme” reconstructions of some of Sheppard’s many fragmentary psalm settings; reconstructions of sections of longer motets that survive only as solo songs with lute accompaniments; a reconstruction of a partsong by Robert Parsons – the stunningly beautiful When I look back – from isolated partbooks and a lute intabulation; Continental motets and chansons that have made their way over to England; excerpts from Ludford’s Lady Masses; two motets with only Elizabethan attributions to Taverner, who died over a dozen years before she ascended the English throne; and a famous work by Tallis – successively a fantasia, O sacrum convivium and finally (among other contrafacta) I call and cry – that seemingly began life as an instrumental work for a consort of viols, with an afterlife serving both the Roman and English Churches.

Musically the most interesting works are the two attributed to Taverner and the motet by Clement. It is unlikely that anyone listening to a “blind tasting” of Quemadmodum would guess that it is by Taverner; indeed, of its five surviving sources, two are anonymous, one ascribes it to Tye, and the other two to Taverner. All these sources are Elizabethan, and none provide any text beyond the initial word. The text of Psalm XLI can be fitted to the notes, so it is reasonable to conclude that it was composed as a motet but was performed instrumentally during its Elizabethan afterlife. What is beyond dispute is that it is one of the most strikingly beautiful works from the Tudor period. In the same class is O splendor gloriae which has Elizabethan ascriptions both to Taverner alone and jointly – respectively the first and second sections – to him and Tye (that man again!). It seems credible that the latter is accurate: either a work on which the two composers agreed to collaborate, or one that Taverner left unfinished and Tye completed; it is even possible that two independent compositions were at some point yoked together, as for instance seems to be the case with the two parts of Byrd’s anthem Arise O Lord/Help us O God albeit they are by the same composer. Clement’s Job tonso capite simply illustrates why he is among the finest composers of his own and of all time.

Musicologically the most interesting works are the five settings by Sheppard of Sternhold and Hopkins’ metrical psalms. These will be published in the forthcoming volume of Sheppard’s complete vernacular music in Early English Church Music, edited by Stefan Scot. Except in one case, only the upper voice of the original four survives for each of these 48 pieces, but the “extreme reconstruction” by Magnus Williamson mentioned above has produced five credible pieces of music for this disc. Given the constraints of a CD booklet it is good that Magnus has been able to summarise the process of reconstruction for each individual psalm. Meanwhile in the Mulliner Book there is an arrangement for keyboard of Sheppard’s setting of Psalm I, The Man is Blest, which, in the words of Stefan Scot, “permits a reconstruction and indicates something of the style of the remaining choral psalms.” Academia Musica Choir, conducted by Aryan O. Arji, recorded all of Sheppard’s Collected Vernacular Works on two discs (Priory PRCD 1081 and 1108, 2013 and 2015) and The Man is Blest is the first track on volume II. Mulliner’s arrangement is played on the organ by Michael Blake (who is scandalously uncredited!) on volume I, track 8.

The two Kyrie movements from different Lady Masses for three voices by Ludford perhaps fall within the category of worthy, albeit pleasantly so, and are enhanced by verses played on the organ by Magnus Williamson employing authentic methods of improvisation on given melodies called “squares”, but the third such movement, Alleluia. Veni electa mea, is, in modern colloquial parlance, an absolute belter, for all its brevity. Like the motet by Clement mentioned above, it illustrates why Ludford takes his seat at the same table as Clement himself, beside Sheppard, Lassus, Taverner, Tye and Tallis, to name only composers present on this disc.

Ensemble Pro Victoria sing all this varied music consistently well, be it plainsong or the augmented forces assembled for O splendor gloriae. I was concerned that the full-throated sound exhibited in some tracks on their disc of Fayrfax might be reproduced here and overwhelm the more understated material. This proves not to be the case. The performances and interpretations, whether assertive, neutral or restrained, are appropriate to each item. Toby Carr’s occasional contributions on the lute with the singers provide both variety of texture and authenticity. The organ played by Magnus Williamson, mentioned above, was built by Goetze and Gwynn in 2002 for the Early English Organ Project, and embodies evidence from fragments of pre-Reformation organs discovered in Suffolk. This combination of cutting-edge scholarship and outstanding performance gives us a recording of the highest quality, apt for edification and pleasure.

Richard Turbet