Tamesis Issue 244
We don’t often have CD reviews in Tamesis so I was pleased to have space for one written by Peter Syrus who conducted last month’s workshop on Schein. If this inspires you to review a CD or anything else relevant to early music, I’ll be happy to print it. My requests for reviews of summer schools never seem to produce a response but this is something I’m sure many of us would find very useful. I don’t listen to music on the radio very much because I prefer to be able to choose what I’m going to listen to in advance and don’t like the culture shock I get when I listen to Monteverdi instantly followed by Wagner or vice versa. I made a special effort one Sunday morning in June at 8am to listen to Pat Field being interviewed by the Breakfast programme presenter on why he particularly treasures Purcell’s Hear My Prayer. I hope some of you heard him because it was a most impressive performance. More of you should do it because there isn’t anything like enough early music on Radio 3. Pat is encouraging the committee to run a Purcell workshop sometime next year. Meanwhile you’ll see that we’ve been busy and our programme is now full up to March 2015, with the first two events being run by our newest committee members Catherine Lorigan and David Butler. I’m also delighted to mention that David Allinson is finding time in his busy life to direct our December event, Christmas in Rome.
At the recent workshop with Peter Syrus I was somewhat startled to discover that there were two cornetts, five sackbuts and three curtals - so many that one poor sackbut player felt obliged to sing throughout. The forces were entirely appropriate for Schein's music and it was good to have a couple of smaller group rehearsing separately to show off the instrumental possibilities. A friend's mentioning of having to sort out old SRP music made me think back to when I first started playing in the 1960s when the Society of Recorder Players provided me with an excellent way of exercising my rather poor consort skills in a discreet manner, there being around a hundred players in the meetings. The sort of music we played was about as far from the scholarly editions that Peter Syrus produces as one can imagine. It included arrangements of keyboard music from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and of rather inappropriate 19th century orchestral music. If vocal music was offered then the words would have been omitted and there was rarely any indication of original sources, key or time signature. Editorial suggestions for ornamentation were indistinguishable from the original notes. There is plenty of good-quality music coming up in the autumn, when we welcome back Justin Doyle, Robert Hollingworth and David Allinson. Many thanks to our committee and especially to our Secretary for organising such an interesting programme.
Padovana mass for 24 voices
10.5.14 at St Sepulchre Church, Holborn
Philip Thorby enthused us with this glorious and undeservedly little known mass for 3 choirs of 8 parts, written to celebrate the wedding in Bavaria of Wilhelm V with Renata of Lorraine in 1568. At the same event, Striggio's 40 part motet Ecce Beatam Lucem was also performed. I found the key changes and colours of the Padovana more reminiscent of the Striggio 40 part mass Ecco si Beata Giorno, which Brian Clark and Robert Hollingworth suggest may have been written in 1566. Three of the movements have been available in Beauchamp edition for many years, and the Gloria and Sanctus have recently been set by David Hatcher. Some of us had been introduced to the Gloria at the recent Ascot Early Music week, and it was good to be able to hear it in context. We had our challenges, reading from single part copies with no cues for the singers as to the tonality in which a previous section in another choir had ended. The very logical way of numbering the choirs was not by tessitura but by the order in which they entered the ensemble. This highlighted the skills expected of musicians of the time of the composition. We were very fortunate to have a great mix of instrumentalists to provide authentic colour; in particular the bass of one choir was provided by a contrabass shawm, which required its own 'outer space' stand, and the 2 cornetts on the top lines of the 2 mixed choirs. David Fletcher's and Wayne Plummer's lips held out well considering the amount they had to play during the day, although at times they had to 'rest', using recorders with equal accomplishment. Acoustically the church was superb and I think we did (at times) really make things ring at final chords, which was very uplifting. Perhaps Philip could have hoped more of us would take our eyes away from our parts by the end of the day to fully engage with his exuberant conducting, highlighting the build up to sudden silences, natural diminuendos produced by a Farewell Symphony-like lessening of parts in play, and the hand-over between the choirs. It might have been interesting for the people who listened to our efforts at the end of the day to have been placed at the centre of the musicians seated in the round.
The time and effort involved in sorting the music at the end of the day by an army of helpers showed how complex the arrangements were for making this a successful day, for which we have to thank Philip hugely.
Johann Schein (1586-1630)
with Peter Syrus, Ickenham, 28 June 2014
I had sung several of Schein’s Christmas chorale settings before, so was interested to explore a wider selection of his work in the company of good musicians. You know with Peter Syrus that you are going to get the goods, and we received a handout with more than a sufficiency of scholarly apparatus – sources, a chronology, facsimiles of first editions, and a rather startling portrait which could have come straight from a catalogue of clown hairstyle designs. From the chronology we learn that Schein was very well educated both in music and in law and the liberal arts, was a predecessor of Bach as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, a close friend of Schütz, and after a lifetime of various illnesses died at the age of 44. Rediscovery began in the 1990’s, with two of the works we sang found only in the last ten years. We had the support of two cornetts, five sackbuts and three curtals, so for most of the time it was not too difficult a day for the singers, who in a day of unsupported sight-reading often take up too much of the teaching time. It was a relief to find that all the music was barred, albeit faintly – for one or two people a bit too faintly - and if you made a grab quickly enough you could get a full score in the larger 2 and 3-choir items. So really there was no excuse for messing up rhythms or missing entries. We began with the 6-part Easter anthem, “O Domine Jesu Christe” from Cymbalum Sionium of 1615. Peter mentioned German pronunciation of Latin from time to time but did not fuss about it; this is just as well, as most people find it quite hard to swing consistently from Italian “croochay” to German “crootsay”. Next, from the same source, the Christmas setting, “Quem vidistis pastores” for two four-part choirs, with lively antiphonal Alleluias and sections of fast 3-time every time the angels praised the Lord together. Back to a more solemn mood with the five-part “Die mit Tränen säen”, from Israel’s Brunnlein, a publication of 1623. This is a text which probably most of us associate with the Brahms Requiem (He that sows in tears will reap in joy). Unusually, this began rather floridly with a chromatic rising theme. Peter chose a not too demanding tempo for this section but then jacked it up when we got to “Werden mit Freuden”, at which point the setting got simpler as well. A very effective piece. After lunch, we spent a short time divided into three groups, the largest of which was the majority of the choir with organ tackling the sacred madrigal “Da Jacob vollendet hatte”. As the other instruments had departed, we now found out how much we had been relying on them. It took Peter some time to get us together in “und verscheid” (he died), and I don’t think all of us got the rather unpredictable entries on “da fiel Joseph” every time. Schein does a bit of rather Italianate wiggly word-painting on “weinet” (wept) which did come off well - eventually. The largest-scale work was “Quem Quaeris Magdalena”, another Easter anthem, for three four-part choirs of different ranges – a trialogue, as you might say, in which the top line of the highest choir was taken by a cornett. This led us astray temporarily when we got to the Alleluias and found that we were in canon, not unison, with the cornett. I am very lazy about counting and in this item especially was very glad to be singing from the full score, especially as the entries were rarely at the beginning of a bar. As Magdalena got the good news the music opened out into the full-choir “sed iam gloriosa fulgebit” (but now He will be shining gloriously in Heaven), and multiple Alleluias worked their way up and down the choirs to a rousing finale. We next had an opportunity to compare a Schein setting of 1627 with Osiander’s of 1586. These were rhymed metrical psalms or hymns intended for congregational singing set in four-part harmony with the melody always in the top line, very much a feature of Lutheran worship and of course many of the later ones found their way into English. The hymn in this instance was “Christum wir sollen loben schon” and was closer to plainsong than I had expected. Published in a “Cantional” or hymn book which was regularly revised, some of his settings lasted into the 18th century. The last work of the day was “Da pacem Domine” for two five-part choirs from “Precatio Ecclesiae pro pace” of 1630, and apparently Schein’s last work. The rather high tessitura towards the end of a long day of singing finally drove me down to the second sopranos, and, when I discovered there was only one of her, to the altos. After tea we had the usual roundup and discovered what the others had been up to in the half hour after lunch. We heard the instrumentalists in part of a dance suite (though Schein would not have called it that) in the Italian style – a Paduana and a Gagliarda, the latter lively as one would expect a Galliard to be, with much syncopation. The other group consisted of two pairs of sopranos and four instruments (curtals and Sackbuts) performing “Dass ist je gewisslich wahr” by Schein’s great friend Schutz. No doubt the lack of support for the two singing lines, the German underlay and the very short time they had been given to work on it made this quite a challenge and the middle section rather wilted, but it finished in fine fashion. I’d have liked to have known what the text meant, though. I very much enjoyed the final “concert” and was once again impressed by how much a good and well-organised music director can get done. Peter’s comments were never too long, though I sometimes wish he’d find time to get a bit of voice training and Project to the Back Row, so we can all hear them equally well. It can’t help that many of us are of a certain age, and if I hadn’t had somebody near me regularly asking what he had just said I perhaps would have taken in more and not have had to rely so heavily on the handout.
A Spagna in the Works
16th century dances, divisions, and instrumental settings
Alison Crum – early viols Roy Marks – lute and guitar ORS087
It is more than thirty years since it began to dawn that the use of an ‘all-purpose’ viol of about 1600 should be questioned in music spanning two or three centuries, from at least the early sixteenth to mid eighteenth. Earlier models of the instrument have now appeared in many recordings from a variety of quarters, but have sometimes sounded distinctly malnourished compared with their Jacobean successors. That is happily far from the case here. More importantly this disc offers a rare opportunity to sample a range of early models individually rather than in consort, and in a cross-section of Renaissance genres including dances, elaborate arrangements of vocal pieces, and more idiomatic instrumental numbers. Fittingly, we are offered no fewer than eight ricercars by Diego Ortiz. From his 1553 treatise, they are essential material in any survey of the repertoire, and in this selection the performers find an attractively wide range of expression. Another welcome composer is Vincenzo Ruffo. The sequence of three items here comes from his 1564 ‘Capricci’, surely some of the finest instrumental trios of the sixteenth century. There are no fewer than 38 tracks, so how does the disc shape up as a coherent programme? Well, it does so in the obvious but no less successful way by pursuing several recurrent themes, be they the ‘La Spagnas’, the ‘Gambas’, settings of ‘Ancor che col partire’ (the Rore original most beautifully played), and a couple of ‘Tandernakens’. But there’s more to it than this – tracks 12 to 14, for example, work really well with Roy’s Wroclaw lute version of ‘La Gamba’ in the middle. The packaging is most attractive, and the colour reproductions of the seven instruments assembled here are not just pretty pictures (though they are that too!). If you have not been lucky enough to witness them already ‘in the flesh’ it’s invaluable to form some impression of their scale and the variety in construction, so different from later viols. All are fully documented later in the liner booklet. This also boasts detailed and informative notes on the music by John Bryan. Again, the level of documentation is perfectly judged – all is eminently readable and helpful, without coming across as a didactic exercise (though I anticipate that you will discover much). You will probably warm to re-hearing some old favourites, such as the lovely ‘Madame d’amours’ in the Henry VIII group, Cara’s ‘fly-wheel’ frottola ‘Non e tempo’, or Torre’s ‘Alta’ (a ‘Spagna’ by any other name), though you may well be unfamiliar with the wacky settings of ‘La Spagna’ from a Perugia source. For my taste, there is insufficient application of musica ficta, for example in Tromboncino’s ‘Vergine bella’, while acknowledging that this is a performance issue where few may agree. Where I think no-one will disagree is in the satisfying sonority of the viols modelled after a 1497 painting by Lorenzo Costa. These came as something of a revelation in the repertoire following their reconstruction some years ago, but even so it is astonishing how sweet and full a sound the small treble can make. Of the other viols Neil Hansford’s alto fashioned after a mid-C16 maker is consistently a delight on the ear. Much of the success of the sound quality and balance between the instruments is attributable to Adrian Hunter, who has engineered a recording of sensitivity, clarity and warmth in a much used venue for projects such as this, Forde Abbey in Dorset. I’ve made much of the viols, but Roy’s contributions here go well beyond accompanying Alison on lute. Guitar is used in two tracks, while we are brought up to date in the final pair of tracks with compositions by Roy himself, a recent take on ‘La Spagna’ (whence the punning title for the disc), and an affecting ‘Lullaby’ he wrote in 2001. Creating a mood leaving us somewhere between a hypnotic trance and suspended mid-air, it is the perfect conclusion to an imaginatively constructed programme, skilfully realised and expertly recorded.
Alison and Roy are both TVEMF members and if you missed the opportunity to buy their CD at Peter Syrus’s workshop last month you can get it directly from them for £12 (plus £2 P&P) with free postage on 4 CDs or more. Email address for this is Alison @ alisoncrum.co.uk.