Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tune thy Musicke to thy Hart: Music for private devotion

Tune Thy Musicke to Thy Hart 
Tudor and Jacobean music for private devotion
Stile Antico
Harmonia Mundi

There have been many albums of English renaissance music, but none quite like this. Tune thy Musicke brings to light some truly neglected repertoire -- sacred music for the manor home.

From the time of Henry VIII through James I, amateur musicianship flourished to a high degree of proficiency. Stile Antico shows just how high with this new release. Most recordings of renaissance sacred music are works that were written -- and meant to be performed -- in churches and chapels by professional choirs. Neither is the case with the music on this album.

Although the compositions may be unfamiliar, the composers are not. Thomas Tomkins, John Taverner, Thomas Tallis, John Dowland, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons are among those represented. As with their secular music for the home, these composers didn't sacrifice quality simply because they were writing for amateurs.

The works presented fall stylistically between the two camps of secular domestic music and sacred church music. Some compositions, such as Thomas Campion's Never weather-beaten sail are jewels of four-part harmony and sound very much like hymns. Although if they were treated more lightly, they almost might sound like secular frottala.

Others, such as John Amner's seven-minute O ye little flock owe more to the madrigal tradition. Amner's ambitious work has several sections that change tempo and mood to suit the lyrics. Counterpoint, supported by instrumental doubling, further illuminates the text. And yet, as the contrapuntal lines spin outward, they seem to evoke the chapel more than the dining room.

Stile Antico performs with clarity and precision. Fretwork lends support on some selections, their viols adding a warm richness to the ensemble. Even if you have a lot of rennaisance music, I highly recommend this recording. It fills in a missing gap in the English renaissance repertoire, with music that has a character all its own.

1 comment:

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