Composers: Britten, Cornysh, Gesualdo, Morley, Tallis, Wippo et al
Performers: Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
Catalogue Number: Soli Deo Gloria SDG731

John Eliot Gardiner comes from interesting stock. His father was a rural revivalist with an interest in naturism, his grandfather was an Egyptologist and his great uncle, Balfour Gardiner  was a composer, whose Evening Hymn is still a great favourite with Anglican choirs. Balfour Gardiner also established a farm in Dorset with which John Eliot is still involved. Apparently this involvement has earned the conductor the nickname “Uphill Gardiner” because of his unusual farming methods.

It is in this rural context that John Eliot’s mother, Marabel staged an Easter play every year from 1963 to 1984. Her son provided the music, and this evocation of the play is his homage to her. The music chosen for the play spans the eleventh to twentieth centuries and is often English in origin. Gardiner felt free to adapt music (even Britten) where necessary to serve the play’s narrative and dramatic purposes, using Schütz’s Story of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Victimae paschali laudes chant for recitative-like storytelling.

Larger-scale items have been added for this recording including Cornysh’s Woefully arrayed and Rheinberger’s Abendlied. These mingle successfully with Gesualdo’s O vos omnes, Tallis’s If ye love me, Taverner’s Dum transisset Sabbatum, Scheidt’s Surrexit Christus hodie and Gabrieli’s Surrexit pastor bonus. Lesser-known items such as Jean L’Héritier’s Surrexit pastor bonus and the Ego sum panis vivus attributed to Leonora d’Este add interest to an already satisfying program.

Another distinctive feature of this disc is the recording venue: Saffron Hall in Saffron Waldon, Essex. The hall lends the recording a relatively dry acoustic which results in a fairly intimate encounter with the music, for example in the plangent account of the Cornysh. Gardiner’s excellent singers including tenor, Hugo Hymas and soprano, Angharad Rowlands make for a rich listening experience.

Read our new magazine online