Verse anthems from FifteenB,
reviewed by RODERIC DUNNETT
The verse anthem, arguably the highest achievement of English church music, reached its apogee under the later Tudor and early Stuart monarchs with Tallis and Byrd, Weelkes, Gibbons and Tomkins.
Yet its influence was felt far beyond that era. It blossomed under Henry V and VI with the likes of John Browne (his music is preserved only in the Eton Choir Book; he has been called 'quite possibly the greatest English composer between Dunstable and Taverner') and later under Henry VII and Henry VIII, thanks to composers of the stature of Cornyshe and Fayrfax, Taverner and Sheppard. Conversely, it enjoyed a revival following the Restoration, first with Pelham Humfrey (who studied with Lully): his still-neglected verse anthems, collected in the volume of the Encyclopedia edited by Peter Dennison, are among the most dazzling English anthems of any era; and later with his most brilliant pupil, Purcell, whose mantle passed in the ensuing generation to Maurice Greene and William Boyce.
In their recent recital, The Art of the Verse Anthem, at the Church of All Saints, Margaret Street, William Butterfield's masterpiece of Victorian Gothic architecture close to the home of BBC Radio in Langham Place, London W1, UK, the FifteenB Consort, a versatile and committed small ensemble directed by the composer Robert Hugill, explored music spanning the Tudors and Stuarts, and included four modern works, two for organ and two choral items by Hugill himself. The appetising concert [on 18 March 2007] was given in aid of the All Saints Restoration Appeal.
If ye be risen again with Christ is a classic example of Gibbons at his best: there is a sensitivity and pliancy to his treatment of vocal lines -- one finds it in This is the Record of John and Hosanna to the Son of David equally, and experts would point to many examples in his viol music -- which makes a Gibbons work almost instantly recognisable. The sopranos and altos (here, just four voices) sang with just the kind of tender restraint and fine-honed ensemble this masterly example of word-setting calls for.
Copyright © 29 April 2007
Roderic Dunnett, Kent UK