A Hilliard Songbook-New Music for Voices

Author: 
Fabrice Fitch

A Hilliard Songbook-New Music for Voices

  • (Un) Coup de dés
  • Only
  • Endechas y Canciones
  • Canticum Canticorum I
  • (The) Hilliard Songbook
  • Incantation
  • Kullervo's Message
  • ... here in hiding ...
  • And one of the Pharisees
  • Whale Rant
  • Music for the Star of the Sea
  • Stabat autem iuxta crucem
  • Sharp Thorne
  • Adoro te devote
  • Summa

The Hilliard Ensemble have always had an interest in commissioning and performing works by living composers, but apart from a few high profile, major projects (such as their continuing involvement with Arvo Part), few of their ventures in the contemporary domain have found their way on to disc. This two-CD set is all the more welcome in that, in recent years, new works have assumed an even more prominent role in The Hilliard’s concert programmes. Though not exhaustive in its representation, “A Hilliard Songbook” (named after a song-cycle by Piers Hellawell) includes most of the prominent figures with whom the ensemble have been associated over the years (Part, MacMillan, Finnissy, Casken), along with younger or lesser-known composers whose works find committed advocates here. Of course, The Hilliards and their sound are usually associated with a very different repertory, so the pleasure in this collection is twofold: first the fascination of hearing a familiar ‘instrument’ in an unaccompanied setting and secondly, the extent to which these composers deal with the silent presence within that sound of nearly six centuries of early polyphony.
That presence is at its remotest in Barry Guy’s Un coup de des, the first work in the collection – though at times the almost Joycean hubbub of the ‘libretto’ calls to mind the town-cry pieces of Janequin and Gibbons. But such a link – if intentional – is never overtly stated; thereafter, references to specific repertories are more explicit, ranging from plainsong and Spanish homophonic canciones (Ivan Moody), hints of Gesualdian chromaticism at the start of James MacMillan’s ... here in hiding..., note-against-note organum in Finnissy (only one of whose Seven Sacred Motets is recorded here), to medieval passion-plays (Part) or standard modal cadential formulae (Paul Robinson). Most of these pieces tend towards the pure triadic sonorities and the respond forms associated with so much medieval and liturgical music – and much tonal music since that time. In Veljo Tormis’s Kullervo’s Message, the strophic structure and figurative gestures (galloping horsemen, whispering messengers of death et al) put one in mind of Schubert’s Erlkonig – but then, nineteenth-century German part-songs also have a place in The Hilliard’s discography.
The composers’ attitude to these references varies considerably; there is a certain pathos in MacMillan’s familiar harmonic gestures wandering rootlessly in search, perhaps, of a (new) home. In John Casken’s Sharp Thorne the pathos derives not from musical quotations but from the juxtaposition of a medieval English poem with a contemporary poem of related imagery – an intimation, no doubt, that little has changed in five, six, seven hundred years. At times, listening to this collection, I had the impression that a similar sentiment animates most of the pieces in “A Hilliard Songbook”. Nevertheless, the performances are of a standard that few living composers can hope for, and the more demanding selections are dispatched with commendable relish, and little hint of strain. Those who admire the ensemble’s inimitable sound can look forward to an issue of real interest.'

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2019