They that in ships unto the sea go down

Music for the Mayflower
Passamezzo
61:23
resonus RES10263

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This programme has been drawn together to mark the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, and is based enterprisingly on music taken in part from music books thought to have been taken to America by the pilgrims and to have been used by them in the early days of the colonies. Perhaps predictably for a group of puritans, books of psalms feature heavily, and Henry Ainsworth’s 1612 Book of Psalmes Englished both in Prose and Metre and Richard Allison’s The Psalmes of David in Meter, the former recording just the psalm tunes by way of music, the latter featuring settings ‘for fowre voyces’, both provide material for the programme. Fortunately for the colonists (and for us), a third book, The golden garland of princely pleasures compiled by Richard Johnson provides slightly more racy secular material, in the form of lyrics and sonnets about England’s historical Queens and Kings. The balance of the programme is made up by carefully chosen songs from the period referencing sea travel and the colonial experience. The choice of material is intriguing and revelatory, and it is easy to imagine the pilgrim fathers gathered on deck in quieter moments during their epic voyage joining in song, or later taking a break from the arduous task of building their colonial towns with some communal singing. The singers and instrumentalists of Passamezzo steer a cautious line between ‘refined’ and ‘naïve’ performance style – I could only wish that they might have taken account of the considerable body of scholarship devoted to the pronunciation of 17th-century English, both in ‘old’ and New England. This is particularly noticeable in the contribution from actor Richard de Winter, which would surely have benefited from a nice 17th-century New England twang! Having said that, the singing is always pleasing, the scoring imaginative and plausible and the playing consistently sympathetic. This is a very enjoyable CD and a suitably evocative celebration of a seminal historical moment.

D. James Ross