Music for a May Morning
''The choral Ministers of this house do, according to ancient custom, salute Flora every year on the first of May at four in the morning with vocal music of several parts. Which having been sometimes well performed hath given great content to the neighbourhood and auditors underneath.'' Good for them. For those of us who feel less well-disposed towards Flora at four o'clock in the morning this CD, complete with dawn chorus and college bells, will come as a very acceptable substitute for the Real Thing, and for those who have made the effort at some time in their lives it will surely serve as a happy reminder.
The programme is a very pleasant one, with madrigals and glees, lute songs and organ solos following each other in agreeable succession, providing variety without straying far from the theme of the May morning. A little of the Italian, French, German and Dutch schools guards against any charge of complacent insularity; the twentieth century makes its contribution along with the Middle Ages, the Tudor and the Jacobean. In the eighteenth century the 'merry concert' is said to have lasted about two hours, and allowing for breaks in between, while music was distributed or people dived for shelter during an early-morning shower, the 70-minute programme given here is probably comparable.
One wonders how the standard of performance compares. Certainly it is excellent here, the choir singing with unfailing freshness and stylistic polish. The trebles (successors to the white-robed, garlanded songsters of Holman Hunt's embarrassing masterpiece) have a distinctively bright tone, particularly well suited to Britten's