Love is Come Again: Music for the Springhead Easter Play
If, like me, you enjoyed the eclectic and beautifully poised Christmas disc ‘Once as I Remember …’ from John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir some two decades ago (Philips, 12/98), you will be both intrigued and delighted by his Easter offering. ‘Love is Come Again’ revisits music from the annual mime-play held at Gardiner’s family home, Springhead, directed by his mother. The music was chosen by Gardiner himself when an undergraduate and in his words contains ‘a fantastic sort of mosaic of magnificent pieces all associated with the Easter story’. This recording includes several additions to that original programme and the booklet contains a history of the Easter festival experience with archive photographs.
If all that sounds rather quaint, fear not, for this is no sepia-tinged indulgence: it packs a punch. The sequence of plainsong, motets and carols are driven by their texts, and their performance leads Gardiner and his singers to occasional extremes. The first sequence, ‘The Crucifixion’, opens with a Herefordshire carol The Seven Virgins sung with arresting simplicity by Angharad Rowlands. Gesulado’s O vos omnes follows with shocking, highly sculpted and overtly madrigalian immediacy as Gardiner draws every possible dramatic fibre to the fore. And energy does not let up for Cornysh’s Woefully array’d, a riot of direct enunciation, stark and as uncomfortable as its subject. Sadly Taverner’s Dum transisset Sabbatum fails to soar in the middling acoustic of Saffron Hall and an awkward entry/edit (7'08") combined with emphatic articulation leaves the final ‘Alleluia’ sounding somewhat irritable. This tendency to over-articulate infuses the title-track with the air of a choral competition: four iterations of ‘wheaT thaT springeth green’ is a shame. But wait for L’Héritier’s Surrexit pastor bonus to hear Gardiner’s Midas touch: I love the slow, sumptuous tempo, like honey dripping from a spoon.
For the sequence ‘The Road to Emmaus’, Rheinberger’s Abendlied is a golden moment, followed by Hugo Hymas’s gripping Evangelist in extracts from Schütz’s Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi (English texts). There is so much to explore on this disc – from an adaption of Britten’s Canticle II to a glorious performance of Ego sum panis vivus attributed to Leonora d’Este – that, on paper at least, it looks like the mosaic is too complicated for the programme to hang together. In reality, though, it does work. Springhead must have been a magical place.