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Hymns, Psalms and Lamentations
Music by Robert White (d. 1564)Gallicantus
The early music ensemble Gallicantus was born within the ranks of the world-class choir Tenebrae, when five of the choir’s regulars, each with a wealth of experience in the world of consort singing, decided to form a separate group dedicated to renaissance music. Literally meaning Rooster Song or cock crow, Gallicantus is a word from monastic antiquity for the office held just before the dawn. It evokes the renewal of life offered by the coming day.
The group is bound by a shared love of communicating text, and is committed to creating performances which draw out unifying themes within apparently diverse repertoire: To this end they are as meticulous about providing context and insight for audiences as they are about crafting interpretations of the music they love.
What people are saying
Release date: 30th Nov 2009
Order code: SIGCD134
|1.||Christe qui lux es et dies (I)|
|2.||Ad te levavi oculos meos|
|3.||Exaudiat te, Dominus|
|4.||Miserere mei, Deus|
|5.||Christe qui lux es et dies (IV)|
|6.||Domine quis habitabit (III)|
|7.||Manus tuae fecerunt me|
The Observer, 20th December 2009
What better respite from the secular pressures of Christmas shopping than these sublime sacred sounds from the late 16th century. White's Lamentations are not as famous as Tallis's, but their plangent harmonies and clashing lines have an equal intensity. This impressive debut disc by Gallicantus (an all-male group from the Tenebrae choir) includes White's motets and hymns, emphasising his response to the texts and his eloquent way with the single Hebrew letters that begin each Lamentation. The vocal balance is slightly bass-heavy, but the sound is beautifully recorded.
The Times, 9th January 2010
Gabriel Crouch’s group Gallicantus (eight male voices) sing on their first CD with a rapture and clarity made to measure for the Tudor church music of Robert White. Throughout the 16th century, White composed to mostly Latin texts: psalm motets, hymns, Lamentations settings, all sounding radiant in the warm and lively church acoustic. Taste the final amens in Exaudiat te, Dominus, where imitative exchanges spiral in ecstasy. Impassioned, exciting music.
The Gramophone, March 2010
Luminous performances of sublime Tudor-period music
What an outstanding disc. It takes me back to the days of heated discussion (heated in English choral circles, certainly!) of the correct pitch at which to perform English music from the 16th century. The advocates of high pitch claimed that written pitch left things muddy and unclear, the advocates of written pitch that the higher tessitura was impossible to maintain. I suspect (and hope) that, like me, a great many of those fundamentalists have become more tolerant as time has progressed and are able to judge a performance merely on its musicality. The present recording is sung entirely by male voices and never once is there a loss of clarity, a hint of muddiness (the opening of the Lamentations, though coming at the end of the disc, could stand as a kind of illuminated initial at the beginning of a gorgeous manuscript, so transparent and luminous is it). Gallicantus is a new group and might therefore claim exemption from these ancient squabbles but for the fact that its members can hardly be ignorant of the past and that they use an edition of White’s six-voice Lamentations made by Sally Dunkley, whose expertise also informs the booklet-notes.
The music is sublime: if White’s musical personality is initially less easy to discern that of Sheppard, say , or Tallis, his mastery of large-scale form (most notably his monumental Miserere mei, Deus, which takes over 15 minutes) is breathtaking. There are rivals but really only for one or two works. Henry’s Eight also recorded with male voices only; the Tallis Scholars make the case for upward transposition. The sensible admirer of White’s music will acquire all three recordings.
Fanfare Magazine, May/June 2010
Robert White (c. 1538-74) is primarily familiar to aficionados of Renaissance polyphony for his setting of the Lamentations for five voices, and perhaps one or more of his four settings of the motet Christe qui lux es. Usually these appear on anthology discs; so far as I can ascertain, only four CDs devoted solely to White have ever been issued: by Henry’s Eight (out of print, but available as an MP3 download from www.amazon.com), Voces Sacrae (difficult to find), the Tallis Scholars, and now this release. Since White’s surviving musical legacy is not large, there is necessarily some overlap of repertoire between the four, but each has at least one unique item (though the Voces Sacre CD has only one item not duplicated on any of the other discs). Given that the first three of these discs were all recorded between 1995 and 1997, another recording of the music of this Catholic recusant composer, an associate of Tallis and Byrd, is overdue.
Gabriel Crouch, baritone part singer and director of Gallicantus (Latin for “cock crow”), an eight-member all-male ensemble, is an alumnus of Henry’s Eight (also a male octet). This is the new ensemble’s first release, and it is simply splendid. England is blessed with a multitude of fine early music ensembles, but this one immediately rises to the forefront with the best of them. My own CD collection contains about 300 discs of Renaissance vocal polyphony, but I cannot recall having ever heard before an ensemble of this sort sing with such perfect balance and clarity that I could clearly understand and distinguish the words of each vocal line without knowledge of or recourse to the texts. The ensemble sound is similar to that of Hilliard Ensemble, but warmer and less self-conscious. A particular attraction of this release is the inclusion as the major work White’s setting of the Lamentations for six voices, instead of the far better known one for five. I have been able to locate only two previous recordings of the six-part version: the Voces Sacrae CD mentioned above, and an ASV disc with the Pro Cantione Antiqua. (In 24:1 J. F. Weber stated that the Cardinall’s Musick on ASV had also recorded this work, but a direct A-B comparison of that disc to this Signum release shows that the ASV disc offers the five-voice setting.) This performance is head and shoulders above the Pro Cantione version; I have not heard the elusive Voces Sacre issue, but a sampling of other recordings by that ensemble suggests it to be noticeably inferior to Gallicantus as well. The vibrant recorded sound is everything one could ask for; the booklet includes texts, translations, and top-notch program notes by musicologist Sally Dunkley of Tallis Scholars fame. Enthusiastically recommended.
James A. Altena
Musicweb International, April 2010
Robert White died with all his family in an outbreak of plague in London in 1574. He came from a musical background. His grandfather had presented an organ to St. Andrew's Holborn. Robert White first crops up as a lay clerk in Trinity College choir in 1555. By 1560 he'd become master of the choristers and acquired his B.Mus. He was described as having studied music for 10 years. This means that he spent much of his training period under Mary Tudor where elaborate Latin sacred music was restored along with the Liturgy. Then in 1558 Queen Elizabeth came to the throne and the Protestant liturgy was restored. But there were exceptions, with the Chapel Royal continuing to sing elaborate Latin music.
By 1562 White was at Ely where he married Christopher Tye's daughter and succeeded Tye as master of the choristers. He then moved on to Chester before arriving at Westminster Abbey. Remarkably, only a single piece of White's seems to survive with an English text. This may be due to loss of White's manuscripts or may give us some indication of where the composer's sympathies lay.
On this new disc the vocal ensemble Gallicantus present eight of White's Latin pieces. The ensemble was founded in 2008 from members of the choir Tenebrae. On this disc they number eight men, two counter-tenors (David Allsopp and Mark Chambers), two tenors (Richard Butler and Christopher Watson), two baritones (Gabriel Crouch and Nigel Short) and two basses (William Gaunt and Jimmy Holliday). The names of some of the singers are familiar to me from other London choral groups. Counter-tenor David Allsopp recently appeared as Daniel in the London Handel Festival's 2010 performance of Handel's Belshazzar.
The disc opens with White's first setting (of four) of the Lenten compline Hymn, Christe qui lux es et dies. In this first version he alternates polyphony and plainchant in pretty much traditional manner. Later on the disc they perform White's fourth version, where the composer displays a greater degree of sophistication. The disc concludes with White's settings of verses from Lamentations. Here White made his own particular selection of verses, which don't seem to correspond to liturgical usage even if there had been someone to perform Lamentations liturgically in Elizabethan England - Protestant England had no equivalent service to the Holy Week services at which Lamentations were sung. Between these two, the remaining items are settings of Psalm texts, covering five of White's twelve surviving Psalm text settings. These Psalm settings are inevitably freer than the plainchant-based hymns.
White likes to mix textures and different numbers of voices. There is something of a slightly old-fashioned feel to the music.
I found these performances enchanting and they introduced me to a composer whose work I knew only superficially. They sing White's lines with beautiful suppleness. Though only a small group they give a strong performance which mixes control with lovely textures. The counter-tenors float the top line nicely, with scarcely a hint of strain, counterbalanced by the lower voices. In fact it is civilised balance which I take away from this disc and a fine projection.
The disc includes full texts and translations along with notes on the music and the historical background.
The CD world is hardly full of CDs of White's music especially sung as sensitively as this. I could imagine them being performed by a larger group, in a more robust manner. But here Gallicantus make a strong case for performance by a vocal ensemble, with nice balance and well modulated tone. This is highly desirable and we can only hope that the group decide to record more of White's music.
Classic FM Magazine, July 2010
While Gallicantus was formed only two years ago, its members own a collective experience of ensemble singing measurable in long decades. Their artistry shines through in this debut disc, so much so that it's tempting to award five stars as a matter of reviewing course. I've resisted simply because the fine detail in Robert White's polyphony, especially in his multi-textured psalm settings Exaudiat te, Dominus and Manus tuae fecerunt me, is occasionally muddied by the reverberant acoustic of All Hallows, Gospel Oak. Fans of majestic Tudor sacred music, however, should immediately add this to their list of discs most wanted.