The latest recording from Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort is not one of their customary blockbusters. There is still plenty of impressive music, but the grandeur is generated through top-notch a cappella singing rather than a cast of thousands. This bouquet of Marian music by English composers has blooms plucked from the Tudor period interspersed with offerings from this century and last, making for some interesting contrasts and intersections.
Kenneth Leighton’s rarely heard Of a Rose Is All My Song launches proceedings, exploring the traditional metaphor of the Virgin Mary as a rose. Ruth Provost’s free-flowing soprano has a marvellous fluidity and expansiveness here that puts the listener in a receptive mood right from the start. Such vocal freedom forms a vivid contrast with the ordered Gothic arches of Tallis’s Videte Miraculum, delivered with a generous but controlled blend.
Similar contrasts mark the next musical doublet: Peter Warlock’s As Dew in Aprylle and Robert White’s Magnificat. The flowing lines in Warlock’s charming miniature display a self-effacing technique and empathy with the text, while White’s long, melismatic lines are treated in a different but equally idiomatic fashion.
John Sheppard’s Ave Maris Stella is surrounded by two contemporary settings of the same text; one by James MacMillan and the other by Owain Park. MacMillan’s tender, luminous account is studded with piquant close harmonies and sung with simple beauty and obvious affection. The gravitas of the Sheppard is succeeded by the mysticism of the Park, both using widely spaced textures to great effect.
Robert Wylkynson’s monumental nine-part Salve Regina is given an appropriately muscular performance, evoking all its considerable architectural grandeur. With such a splendid tutti sonority, who needs instruments? In between the tutti sections, the solo verses are also sung with plenty of colour. Harmonic colour is also richly realised in the Salve Regina of Howells in which the singers run the full gamut of emotions.
Aptly described as having a “postmodern simplicity,” Jonathan Lane’s There is no rose provides the perfect foil to the final, title track by Matthew Martin in which the composer embeds the text of There is no rose within the Magnificat. The Gabrieli Consort rises to the work’s complex challenges, producing a compelling performance that powerfully communicates both texts.
No vast forces, but McCreesh and his singers impress with their stylistic versatility and colour.