When the Queen sent a flunkey to tell Christopher Tye that he was
playing out of tune, he returned a message saying no, it was her ears.
Ah, those were the days - Tudor England, when the church was in
turmoil and its music set in Latin.
On their eighth annual choral pilgrimage, Harry Christophers and the
Sixteen are touring the country for the next three months with a rare
collection of Tudor treasures, taking them back to the cathedrals and
churches for which they were written. In the works of Tye, his
son-in-law Robert White and their contemporary Robert Parsons, one of
Britain's finest chamber choirs has unearthed a little-known hoard of
Reformation gems that richly deserve this wider airing. Spanning the
reigns of Henry VIII via Edward VI and Mary to Elizabeth I, these
three composers all deserve to be up there in the English choral
pantheon with the likes of Tallis and Byrd.
This year's pilgrimage began in St John's College, Cambridge, founded
in 1511, but blessed in the mid-19th century with a George Gilbert
Scott chapel whose acoustic perfectly suits the nuanced talents of the
Sixteen. In fact 18 for this excursion - six sopranos, four altos,
four tenors and four basses - they filled the vaulted ceiling with
their celestial euphony, as if to emphasise that the music mirrors the
ornate ecclesiastical architecture. In the programme, indeed, we have
the Archbishop of Canterbury's word for it that early 16th-century
church music amounts to 'a kind of translation in sound of the
crystalline elaborations of early Tudor fan vaulting'.
The discovery of the evening is White's Lamentations, a series of
melancholy texts from Jeremiah blending exquisite contrapuntal
passages with bold harmonic shifts, climaxing in the most passionate
of exhortations. Parson's Ave Maria and Tye's Peccavimus cum patribus
nostris are more conventionally devotional works, as is Parson's O
bone Jesu, but all combine that rare mix of emotionalism and
self-discipline which is the paradoxical hallmark of this music as
much as these stellar performers. Catch them if you can in your own
corner of the kingdom or share the experience in their recording,
Treasures of Tudor England, on Coro.
Reposted A Cappella News