Review by: David Vernier
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10
The British choral ensemble Alamire (not to be confused with the American group Capella Alamire) always can be relied upon to produce sonically vibrant, vocally well-matched and balanced, interpretively authoritative performances, and that’s what you’ll find in this thoroughly interesting program of motets, songs, and instrumental pieces from the time of Henry VIII. In fact, many of the selections are attributed to the king himself, nine songs and instrumental pieces drawn from “the so-called Henry VIII Manuscript” that resides in the British Library.
The instrumental works are performed by harp or by the ensemble QuintEssential, which consists of cornett, shawm, sackbut, and percussion; the solo songs are sensitively, beautifully sung by mezzo Clare Wilkinson, whose timbre here is remarkably like a countertenor. The choral pieces–including the six motets (here receiving their first recordings) contained in a luxuriously illustrated Royal Choirbook presented to Henry and Catherine of Aragon as a gift around 1518–are significant and in some cases substantial. Both the 10-minute-long Psallite felices by the German composer known as Sampson (from the choirbook) and the 16-minute-plus Lauda vivi alpha et oo by Robert Fayrfax are big, gorgeous, cathedral-sized works that show impressive skill at text setting and building extended structures with sectional variety, primarily by alternating polyphony with richly-scored chordal passages and shifting textures from full choir to reduced voice parts.
While all of the music here is worth repeated hearing (and performing!), for me the highlights are Sampson’s Salve radix and Quam pulcra est (those cross-relations!), Jacotin’s Beati omnes (sung by the lower voices), with its wonderfully flowing, interwoven lines and thrillingly resonant harmonies, and the opening O Christe Jesu, pastor bone by John Taverner, a perfectly written little gem that should be in every serious choir’s repertoire. I can’t emphasize enough how much of the success of this recording is due to Alamire’s impeccably balanced, full-bodied, well-tuned sound, so expertly recorded in three different venues–and to the scholarship and clearly inspired direction of David Skinner. Don’t delay; you’ll love this! [7/9/2009]
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Recording Details:Album Title: HENRY'S MUSIC
Motets from a Royal Choirbook; Songs by Henry VIII -