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Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, July 2011

The background to this disc is that of an entertainment. Deborah MacKay, who along with conductor Andrew MacKay, wrote the booklet essay, had the idea of illustrating the Queen’s ‘progress’ across England with a night’s musical and dramatic entertainment. A contemporary quote at the start of the essay tells us what that might have been like. The full text is available through the Naxos website.

The Sarum Consort have been around since 1992 and consists of about ten voices all experienced but generally young. Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘not another disc of miscellaneous Elizabethan music!’ You might even baulk, as I have done to a certain extent, at having such a large group singing madrigals although in fact it works out to only two voices per part. However some of these are quite big. I did feel at times that the approach was a little heavy and lacking in subtle dynamics. In addition they are not helped by a rather close and airless recording despite the church acoustic. That was certainly a view I took early on with the first track: Weelkes’ brilliant madrigal As Vesta was from Latmos Hill. However the way conductor—yes a conductor for madrigals—Andrew Mackay builds the climax in this wonderfully exhilarating piece is captivating. So it was that I began to feel a little more at home. However the problem seems to me to be even more acute in the Morley madrigal Hard by a Crystal Fountain, which is surely too heavy.

Weelkes’ madrigal and those by Hunt, East (his Hence Stars—which is surely taken here at too fast a tempo) and Morley come from the famous ‘Triumphs of Oriana’ published under Morley’s guidance in 1601. Other madrigals derive from general collections of the period. The three by Wilbye come from his superlative 2nd Set of 1609, Tomkins’ madrigal from his only collection of 1622 and that by Ferrabosco from his sole publication of 1609. Incidentally this means that they are all Jacobean. How these fit into a 1590s celebration of the Queen’s progress I’m not sure. Surely other, more historically appropriate pieces could have been selected. Never mind. It’s good to have the Hunt piece, Hark! Did you ever hear is a strongly imitative and quite complex madrigal. It seems that Hunt was organist at Wells Cathedral so perhaps his musical world was mainly sacred and polyphonic. Also not well known are the songs of Alfonso Ferrabosco II. So beauty on the waters stood with words by his friend Ben Jonson was probably written for a court masque. There are two sacred works: Gibbons’ joyous O Clap your hands and, an unusual choice this, a sensitively performed Latin motet Laboravi in gemitu meo a setting of Psalm VI by Philippe Rogier. He’s a composer not much recorded but of late to be discovered on Linn recorded spectacularly by His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts. This motet was published by Morley—hence its inclusion.

Sometimes the Sarum Consort sing just one voice per part and this is quite pleasing as in Wilbye’s Oft have I vowed. To add variety the choral items are broken up by lute solos as with the delightful Robin—a set of simple variations on a tune quoting by the mad Ophelia in Hamlet. There’s also the lute song, Dowland’s magical Time, Stands Still. Good things here. However the slightly measly playing time is something of a disappointment. Also a disappointment is the lack of texts. For those we must go to the Naxos web site (just type the CD number)—an all too common occurrence nowadays. The Sarum excel in diction so you might not need to bother.

The songs are pleasingly done by soloists Alison Hill in the Ferrabosco and Duncan Byrne in the Dowland. Both can however tend to sound expressionless.

The highlights: I especially enjoyed the longest track, the motet by Rogier, and the last track: Wilbye’s famous Draw on Sweet night. This gives the wonders of Jacob Heringman’s lute a chance to weave a counterpoint discreetly around the ten voices, balancing well.

There are some pleasing moments on this CD. There are several well-known sources and composers to be tapped into. If you are new to this repertoire then this is a good place from which to begin your journey of exploration.

William J Gatens
American Record Guide, July 2011

The performances are technically accomplished and expressive. The sound ideal is clearly vocal chamber music for mixed voices…these are performances of energy and aplomb that should give pleasure to listeners who admire this repertory.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, May 2011

It was understandable that misplaced optimism led some to refer to the early years of the present Queen’s reign as a “new Elizabethan age”. It is certainly understandable that they should hope for a repeat of an earlier period in many respects so full of achievement. That was very much the case with music, and the quality and variety of music on this disc, only a tiny sample of what was produced at the time, is an eloquent reminder of this. Not that all of it really fits the description of the title. The motet by the Flemish composer Rogier was not written for Elizabeth but it was published in England as being by Thomas Morley. Some items, including Gibbons’ “O clap your hands”, were written after Elizabeth’s death in 1603. The items on the disc were in fact originally chosen as part of an entertainment with the same title which tells of a single night on one of the Queen’s royal progresses. The full text of this entertainment, devised by Deborah Mackay, will be included on the Naxos website although it is not available at the time of writing [Text is now available on].

The mere titles of the items on the disc do not really convey its variety. As well as madrigals of various types, including several from the collection “The Triumphs of Oriana”, there are religious pieces, two lute songs and two items for solo lute. The latter, played by Jacob Heringman, are particularly enjoyable. The songs are slightly less so, being performed in a somewhat impersonal manner with little variation between verses. They are nonetheless welcome in adding variety to the programme, most of which consists of choral items. These are sung sometimes one to a part and sometimes with the voices doubled. The more intimate and transparent sound of the former is much to be preferred in terms of clarity and blend, and the result has much more character. Indeed if I have a criticism of the generally more than adequate singing on the disc it is that the special character of individual pieces is not made apparent. The somewhat close and unatmospheric recording does not help in this respect. Nonetheless there is much to enjoy here.

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, April 2011

In 1601 a group of English composers collaborated on a tribute to the aging Queen Elizabeth, a set of madrigals entitled The Triumphs of Oriana, held together by the refrain ‘Then sang the nymphs and shepherds of Diana/Long live fair Oriana’. By then the queen had passed almost into legend—the myth of the ageless Virgin Queen, whose portraits depicted her becoming ever younger. In actual fact, she had become quite unpopular, but the image or metaphor of Gloriana remained potent.

The Triumphs have been recorded complete a number of times, including by Pro Cantione Antiqua for DGG Archiv in 1977, briefly released on CD but no longer available. Two recordings remain in the catalogue: the King’s Singers on Signum SIGCD082 and I Fagiolini on Chandos Chaconne CHAN0682. Michael Greenhalgh compared the two performances of what he considered the seven best madrigals and mostly favoured the King’s Singers. Not all of MG’s seven choices are featured here—no Bennett, Carlton, Holmes and the Tomkins work here is not from the Triumphs.

Thomas Weelkes’s As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending is placed first on the Naxos programme—rightly so, I think, because it’s always been my favourite and I see that MG agrees in placing it among his seven choices. He notes agreement between his two versions in timing for this piece at just over three minutes. The Sarum Consort give the piece a little more breathing space at 3:43; their tempo works well enough but, having listened to the two rival versions I marginally prefer a slightly faster tempo. There’s a rival Naxos recording from the Jeremy Summerly and the Oxford Camerata, where the piece is taken even more slowly yet contrives to sound both stately and lively. (English Madrigals and Songs from Henry VIII to the 20th Century, 8.553088.)

Michael East’s Hence stars, which is included in the Naxos selection, was given pride of place in the collection because it arrived last at the printers; it’s a pleasant enough piece and it receives a good performance from the Sarum Consort. That features in MG’s second-best list, together with Morley’s Hard by a crystal fountain and Thomas Hunt’s Hark did ye hear? All three are sung with greater dispatch by the King’s Singers, who are a whole minute faster in the Morley, yet I thought the Sarum tempo here quite appropriate to the words.

It’s easy to sense fatigue creeping into Michael Greenhalgh’s review of the complete Triumphs and Naxos were probably wise to include only a selection together with other works from the period, some of them by composers who contributed to the Triumphs—John Wilbye’s Draw on sweet night, which concludes the programme is one of the best. On that rival Naxos recording from the Oxford Camerata the piece is taken significantly more slowly, perhaps appropriately for the words, but I prefer the Sarum tempo, where it sounds ‘dignified and inexorable’ enough, to quote the description given in Naxos’s brief but apt notes. I have considerable admiration for Jeremy Summerly, but I do think he allows this piece to drag a little.

Of the remaining pieces, Byrd’s anthem for the preservation of Elizabeth is the best known. The Consort’s timing is again a little on the slow side—a few seconds slower even than the Tallis Scholars on Gimell, who usually give what they sing a little more time to breathe than their rivals. Again, however, the Sarum Consort’s tempo works well enough.

Philippe Rogier is the odd man out—included here because Laboravi in gemitu was once attributed to Thomas Morley. He’s a welcome intruder, however, if only because we are only just beginning to hear his music in first-rate performances from Linn and Hyperion.

Despite minor reservations, then, the new recording merits a recommendation. The recording is good and the download comes with a useful booklet, but no texts—these are available online as indicated above or via a link from the Naxos Music Library. Unless you must have the complete collection of the Triumphs, this will do fine…

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

The music written for Queen Elizabeth forms much of the golden era in the English Reformation. One disc can offer no more than a brief sample of the large volume of works that were produced through her long reign, but it gives a guide to the main composers involved. Though the accompanying booklet does not make clear, one supposes that the programme is derived from concerts given by The Sarum Consort, and tells, in music, of an imagined tour the Queen made—as she did most of her younger years—around the country. It is devised by the group’s conductor, Andrew Mackay, and can be read on the Naxos website. In scope it ranges from the ten voices of the whole consort in Weelkes’s As Vesta was from Latmos Hill descending and Wilbye’s Draw on, sweet night, down in size to the tenor and lute duet, Time stands still, by Dowland. The outstanding lutenist, Jacob Heringman, adds two solos: Robin is to the greenwood gone and Dowland’s galliard The Right Honourable the Lady Rich. Lesser known composers include Alfonso Ferrabosco the Younger, a foreign name but born in Greenwich, his So beauty on the waters stood being very nicely sung by the soprano, Hanna Atherton, with Heringman’s accompaniment. The intonation and tonal quality is all we have come to expect from top-ranking British period groups, Duncan Byrne an excellent solo tenor in the Dowland track. The recording is a little one-dimensional in quality, but very clearly defined.

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