Friday 21 November 2014

Avie release Volume 3 in their series of Music from The Eton Choirbook showing the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford under their Director, Stephen Darlington to be one of our finest choirs

The Eton Choirbook  is a richly illuminated manuscript collection of English sacred music composed during the late fifteenth century. It was one of very few collections of Latin liturgical music to survive the Reformation, and hence is an important source.

The Choirbook was compiled between c.1500 and c.1505 for use at Eton College. Originally there was a total of ninety three separate compositions, however only sixty four remain either complete or in part. Some of the twenty five composers are known only because of their inclusion in the Eton Choirbook.

This rich source of sacred music has been the subject of a series of recordings by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford  under their Director of Music, Stephen Darlington  from Avie Records . The latest release, entitled Courts of Heaven is the third volume in this valuable series.


This new release features works by John Hampton, Edmund Turges, Richard Fawkyner, John Browne and Robert Wylkynson.

John Hampton’s (b c.1455, d. after 1520) Salve regina a 5 brings some beautifully rich sounds above which the trebles soar, the composer providing many distinctive phrases. The treble solo, Binath Philomin, a pure yet characterful voice shows some fine interplay with the bass soloist. When the whole choir returns, the effect is impressive. There are many individual solo contributions that deserve praise. This is a choir that can rival many of the specialist period choirs and show this Salve regina to be a very fine work indeed. There is a beautiful ebb and flow creating a glorious sound.

There is a forthright, richly blended opening to Edmund Turges’ (b. c. 1450) Gaude flore virginali a 4 before some very fine, accurate singing from a smaller ensemble of voices, weaving a terrific sound. Turges calls on some intricate, exceptionally difficult passages which this choir performs magnificently. There is a rich, subdued quality to much of the writing as well as many intricate extended passages for smaller groups of voices. When the music does take off, Turges achieves a lovely rich flow of invention with lovely harmonies.

Richard Fawkyner’s (fl. 1480) Gaude virgo salute a 5 brings a lighter sound, more transparent, soon giving way to an exquisite blend of solo treble and small group of adult voices. This treble really is terrific as are the small vocal ensemble. Whilst Fawkyner also engages in some lovely intricate passages there is a lighter quality than that of Turges. When the music rises up the choir provides some truly magnificent sounds. Treble, Binath Philomin has many taxing moments throughout as well as a very fine solo with one of the basses. This is a particularly fine work with a lovely extended Amen beautifully sung, overflowing with lovely harmonies and textures.

John Browne (fl c.1490) is probably the best known composer on this disc and has the largest number of works in the Choirbook. O mater venerabilis a 5 has a richly blended opening before a smaller group, first alto and tenors, followed by bass) lead on. When the full choir join they bring a beautifully blended sound, all sections of the choir clearly heard. Stephen Darlington knows just how to get his choir to reveal the many subtleties of this music. Again some lovely solo contributions and some very fine sonorities from the smaller group of voices.

The choir opens Robert Wylkynson’s (b. cc. 1475-80, d.1515 or later) Salve regina a 5 before the choristers come in over the top in a lovely opening to this setting with some lovely little upward phrases. The choir’s rich voiced soloists come together at ‘exaudi preces’ Treble, Binath Philomin again provides a fine solo with the other soloists weaving some very fine sounds. When the whole choir re-enters, what a fine sound they make, a glorious tapestry of sound. There is an extended solo for treble and bass as well as some finely intricate passages for the adult soloists before the fine conclusion for the whole choir.

How fortunate for Avie to have this fine choir amongst their artists and how lucky for us to be able to enjoy such fine music in such glorious performances.

The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford under their Director, Stephen Darlington is surely one of our finest choirs, be it cathedral, collegiate or specialist.

As the booklet does not give individual track credits I can only list the other fine soloists, Edward McMullan (alto), Benjamin Durrant and Tim Hawken (tenors) and William Gaunt, Michael Hickman and David Le Prevost (basses).

The recording made in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, the venue for so many fine choral recordings, is first rate. There are excellent booklet notes as well as full Latin texts with English translations.

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