Friday 11 November 2016

Another fine release from Stephen Darlington and the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford in Avie’s valuable series of Music from the Eton Choirbook that includes two world premiere recordings

So far in their survey of Music from the Eton Choirbook  Stephen Darlington and the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford have brought us works by John Browne, William Cornysh, Richard Davy, Richard Fawkyner, John Hampton, Walter Lambe, Edmund Turges and Robert Wylkynson.

Twenty five composers’ names appear in the Eton Choirbook with the finest and most prominent being John Browne, Walter Lambe, Richard Davy, William Cornysh, Robert Wylkynson and Robert Fayrfax. Others have only one or two works credited and, indeed, are only known due to their inclusion in this wonderful collection.

Volume 4 of this series from Avie Records adds such names as William Horwood and William, Monk of Stratford to sit alongside two settings of the Salve Regina by John Brown, one of which is a world premiere recording.

John Browne (fl. C.1490) is one of the more prominent composers whose music appears in the Eton Choirbook with his music featuring on each one of the discs in this series so far. Here we have two settings by him of the Salve Regina opening with Salve Regina I a 5 which develops some very fine textures and rather adventurous harmonies splendidly revealed by this fine choir, slowly blossoming as the choristers join. This choir find a lovely, naturally developing flow, negotiating Browne’s twists and turns so well. Every time the choir rises out of the more contemplative passages they deliver a spectacularly fine sound with some very fine individual voices. Around the midway point there is a particularly fine moment for bass and treble as they gently weave around each other with the choir developing the most lovely harmonies and textures toward the end.

John Browne’s Salve Regina II a 5 receives its world premiere recording here. From the opening baritone voice to which a tenor joins there is some wonderful singing here. The choir join to take the music forward with various sections of the choir weaving some wonderful moments. Again individual voices bring so many lovely moments, conjuring the most lovely variety of sonorities and expanding through rich choral textures. Stephen Darlington never pushes or rushes the music, allowing a natural unfolding, often mesmerising flow out of which varying textures appear, wonderfully shaped. Browne surely rates amongst the finest of his period, at least the equal of his contemporary, William Cornysh.

Another world premiere recording on this disc is William Horwood’s (c.1430-1484): Gaude flore virginali. Horwood’s Christian name is not recorded in the Eton Choirbook but is almost certainly the William Horwood who was a vicar choral in Lincoln in 1476 and choirmaster there from 1477 to 1484. Gaude flore virginali is introduced by the choristers who soon blend with the rest of the choir in a gentle, rather wistful passage. As the music rises, this choir reveals some thrilling textures and finely controlled dynamics. There are lovely moments as the choristers blend around alto voices before the choir rises in a lovely richness of texture with individual voices weaving some very fine moments.

Magnificat a 4 is the only surviving work of William Stratford (William, Monk of Stratford) (fl. late 15th – early 16th century). It is often the least known figures who come down over the centuries which fascinates us the most. Nothing is known about this composer except that he is described in the Eton Choirbook as monachus Stratfordiae indicating that he was probably a monk of the Cistercian abbey of Stratford-atte-Bowe in what is now East London. His Magnificat opens with a plainchant statement of Magnificat anima mea dominum before the whole choir takes the music ahead bringing some fine textures, varied through the careful use of various voices, individual choir members providing some fine moments. This choir find a lovely natural rise and fall, finely handling the varying rhythms. The closely written counterpoint, a challenge for any choir, is spectacularly well done here. There is more plainchant for Et misericordia from which wonderful textures and harmonies rise to great effect. After another plainchant statement from the choir of the text Deposuit potentus de sede, individual voices blend the most lovely sequence, mellifluous, finely shaped, with lovely harmonies. The rich lower voices of the choir add some quite lovely textures. After the plainchant for Suscepit Israel puerum suum the music increases in power through very fine passages to a plainchant Gloria before the choir gently blends to lead, with increasing strength, to the concluding Amen.

This is another fine issue in this valuable series. The recording from the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, produced by Jeremy Summerly, is first class, giving great depth and detail. There are excellent booklet notes together with Latin texts and English translations.

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