Tony Way

February 23, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Pierre de la Rue (The Brabant Ensemble/Rice)

Measuring fame is always a difficult proposition. Pierre de la Rue (c. 1452-1518) died a wealthy man, much of his relatively prolific output has survived and he has earned a place in the history books as the most famous composer of his generation not to have worked in Italy. Yet, for all this, he is largely forgotten today. Thankfully, enthusiasts such as Stephen Rice and his Brabant Ensemble are doing a sterling job in plugging the gaps in his discography. Missa Nuncqua Fue Pena Mayor, the earlier of two Masses on this disc is not the most promising place to start, however. While there are some variations in texture and rhythm, it is a rather plain four-part setting. Despite an empathetic approach to text by the singers, the music itself comes across as rather academic. (Perhaps it would have helped to hear the song on which it is based first.) The later Missa Inviolata is a much more interesting and accomplished affair with flashes of rhythmic brilliance and interesting text setting, still within the confines of four parts. Recalling the style of Josquin, Salve Regina VI effectively varies combinations of voices to make the final four-part section of the motet…

January 18, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Songs of the Nativity (The Sixteen)

Trust Harry Christophers and The Sixteen to get to the heart of the matter. This selection of 22 carols is an engaging mix of old and new, sung unaccompanied and without the cloying sentimentality that often mars the Christmas season and threatens to make a mockery of a story that could have particular resonance in our own age of mass human displacement. Here we have singing that conveys wonderment and joy, but also empathetically touches on the less glamorous aspects of the human condition. The older carols are not necessarily well known. As Christophers notes, some are out fashion, but none the worse for that. Traditional compositions such as This endris night with its catchy tune together with the Somerset Carol and the Gallery Carol both of which evoke innocent merriment, are all worth reviving, while better known 20th-century favourites such as Peter Warlock’s Bethlehem Down, John Ireland’s The Holy Boy and Henry Walford Davies’ O little town of Bethlehem have an appealing intimacy. A welcome stylistic variety informs the choice of newer carols. Whether it is the close harmony of Morten Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium, the subtle but effective motoric minimalism of Howard Skempton’s Adam lay ybounden or the…

December 16, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Penderecki conducts Penderecki (Warsaw Philharmonic)

If this well produced disc is anything to go by, Krzysztof Penderecki, the grandfather of Polish music, remains a powerful expressive force, both as composer and conductor. Spanning nearly 60 years of compositional endeavour, the works display Penderecki’s prowess in the field of large-scale religious works. His 2014 Dies Illa, written to commemorate the victims of World War I on the centenary of its outbreak, is a vivid soundscape that takes inspiration from Verdi’s Requiem. The Warsaw forces perform expertly and soloists (soprano Johanna Rusanen, mezzo  Agnieszka Rehlis and bass Nikolay Didenko) deliver texts with empathy and commitment. Two 1997 commissions demonstrate Penderecki’s ability to bring his keen appreciation of history to bear on works for grand occasions. Hymn to St. Daniil for the 850th anniversary of the foundation of Moscow, has a strong flavour of Orthodox chant, culminating with brass and bells. Hymn to St Adalbert for the millennium of the city of Gdan´sk grows into a fervent and exultant outpouring of praise. Psalms of David from 1958 won the composer several prizes that helped establish his international reputation. A fascinating blend of avant-garde and traditional, they have a likeable freshness and originality that has not dimmed in the…

December 16, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Muffat: Missa In Labore Requies (Cappella Murensis)

Born in France of a German father and with Scottish forbears, Georg Muffat was something of a polyglot in more ways than one. As a result of his many travels, either for study or in search of work, Muffat was destined to introduce into Germany the fashionable baroque styles of both Italy and France, having met both Corelli and Lully. In his splendid and lavish 24-part Missa In Labore Requies, both styles happily coexist. It is thanks to Haydn, who possibly acquired the autograph score from Muffat’s son, that the Mass is still extant, even though it was neglected up until the 1990s probably because it was thought to be spurious. (It has now been authenticated.) The abbey church at Muri in Switzerland, with its four galleries and two organs is a wonderfully apt recording venue. Such spatial differentiation is reminiscent of the four organ galleries of Salzburg Cathedral. The cathedral was possibly the venue for which the work was originally written, as Muffat had to return from a study tour to assist in the celebrations for the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of the diocese. The musical forces of the Mass are divided into five groups – two choral…

November 17, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Lobo: Lamentations (Westminster Cathedral Choir)

Listening to Alonso Lobo’s music it is easy to understand why the great Victoria considered him an equal. Having trained under Francisco Guerrero at the cathedral of Seville, Lobo was appointed as his teacher’s assistant in 1591, but was two years later appointed to the prestigious post of maestro de capilla at Toledo cathedral. There he remained for a successful decade before returning to Seville in 1604 where he worked until his death in 1617. This impressive programme begins with Guerrero’s Easter motet, Maria Magdalena et Altera Maria followed by Lobo’s own Missa Maria Magdalene. Lobo’s homage to his master is also sumptuously cast in six parts and is full of wonderfully awe-inspiring moments, such as the Et Incarnatus and the Osanna in Excelsis. Such was Lobo’s fame his music was often copied, finding its way to other countries and even to the New World. This is particularly fortunate in the case of his Lamentations. Two sets were written, but only one is performable, and that in a manuscript from 1772. Written to be performed in a darkened church during Holy Week, each lamentation begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which is set with flowing melismas, creating a mood…

November 10, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: English Romantic Madrigals

Jeremy Dibble, indefatigable scholar of all things English, Romantic and musical, has exhumed a sizeable body of madrigals written in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Some of the composer’s names will be familiar: Elgar, Stanford and Parry. Some choristers will be familiar with Stainer, whose oratorio, The Crucifixion makes an annual appearance on Good Friday at St. Paul’s, Melbourne. The names of Leslie, Goodhart and Pearsall will more often than not draw a blank. Pearsall is best known for his arrangement of In Dulci Jubilo in Willcocks’ Carols for Choirs 1. Encouraged by societies who ran competitions with generous prizes, these composers and many others turned their hand to the form of the madrigal, attempting on the one hand to evoke something “antique” and on the other to push the form’s harmonic and textural envelope in new directions. Victorian prudery is evident in the lack of any salacious Elizabethan texts. Hard by a Crystal Fountain and Come Again, Sweet Love are definitely out. Stanford and Pearsall, each in their own way, are the best of this bunch. Stanford unashamedly displays his ‘modernist’ credentials in daring but deftly handled harmonies in God and the Universe and On Time. Pearsall in ‘antiquarian’ mode…

October 13, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Roma æterna

At first glance, you may wonder whether we need yet another disc of some of the Counter-Reformation’s greatest hits. Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, Tu Es Petrus and Sicut Cervus as well as Victoria’s Missa O Quam Gloriosum have been recorded countless times and surely there are many interesting and lesser-known pieces to explore? After all, Palestrina did write at least 104 masses and how many of those do we get to hear? These are quite legitimate questions, but New York Polyphony makes a plausible case for saying there’s always room for one more account of core repertory. The group’s main point of difference from previous recordings is that they perform the music one voice to a part and at a pitch to accommodate their four male voices (countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass). The fine quartet of main singers (Geoffrey Williams, Steven Caldicott Wilson, Christopher Dylan Herbert and Craig Phillips) are joined by countertenor Tim Keeler; tenor Andrew Fuchs and bass-baritone Jonathan Woody for the Palestrina mass and motet, and for some chant propers for Easter that are interwoven with the mass. Singing the Missa Papae Marcelli a fourth below its regular pitch creates quite a different sound world, particularly requiring…

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