Late Medieval English and Scottish Sacred Choral Works

Author: 
David Fallows

Late Medieval English and Scottish Sacred Choral Works

  • O Maria Salvatoris mater
  • Quemadmodum
  • O bone Jesu
  • Gaude flore virginali
  • Stabat mater dolorosa
  • O splendor gloriae

Scots readers will perhaps correct me, but I cannot establish that a note of Carver's has ever appeared previously on a commercial recording. Working in the first half of the sixteenth century, he is the earliest Scottish composer of any substance, and a decidedly curious figure, as the Taverner Choir show. His motet O bone Jesu in 19 voices—that is to say, more voices than any known earlier piece apart from Ockeghem's lost 36-voice motet and just possibly a 24-voice motet ascribed on dubious grounds to Josquin—is a gloriously bizarre work, vaguely in the English style with delicate filigree in its reduced-voice sections, and then with massive chordal passages of considerable brilliance but with some very odd progressions. Only slightly shorter, at just over ten minutes, is his five-voice Gaude flore virginali another undeniably magnificent work despite counterpoint that seems crabbed by most standards of the time. What comes across here is a composer of marked individuality: and one can only hope that the success of this record will encourage somebody to attempt one of Carver's four surviving Mass cycles (one of which, incidentally, is in ten voices, and again an extremely strange work).
With the Browne and Taverner pieces we are on slightly more familiar and firmer ground. The two leading English composers of the years before and after about 1510 are sovereign masters of the florid style. Yet these particular pieces are surprisingly unfamiliar and extremely welcome to the catalogue. Browne's O Maria salvatoris mater in eight voices is in fact the opening work of the massive Eton Choirbook, and surely deserves its place there. Taverner's Quemadmodum has always been considered an instrumental ensemble piece: Hugh Keyte's new arrangement shows that the text from the 42nd Psalm fits it easily enough though the music remains puzzlingly unlike what we otherwise know of Taverner's vocal works, as Sally Dunkley's intelligent note concedes. And the disc ends with another problem piece, O splendor gloriae, ascribed to both Taverner and Tye: it was, I think, our own JM who first argued that Taverner may have composed the first half and Tye the second, a view which the performance on this record audibly supports.
Andrew Parrott's choir have a sharp-edged quality that is most impressive. The textures are as clear as a bell, and the intonation is excellent. Some listeners may actually find it almost too clear and unyielding, a little out of kilter with the misty perpendicular-architecture sound that the soaring lines seem to imply. And that may be why Carver's polyphony sounds a little lumpy. Even if it does not quite match your own idea of the music, however, you will surely welcome this rather different approach and find it highly invigorating.'

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