What is our Life?-Renaissance Laments and Elegies

Author: 
Fabrice Fitch

What is our Life?-Renaissance Laments and Elegies

  • How are the mighty fallen
  • Sleep, fleshly birth
  • When David heard
  • When David heard
  • O Jonathan, woe is me
  • Nymphes des bois/Requiem
  • Absalon fili mi
  • Doleo super te
  • Lugebat David Absalon
  • Versa est in luctum
  • Mortuus est Philippus Rex
  • Versa est in luctum
  • When David heard
  • Come to me grief for ever
  • What is our life

This recording presents a selection of renaissance lamentations – a frequent theme in an age when premature mortality was far more common than it is today. Most of these pieces commemorate actual deaths: Weelkes, Ramsey and Tomkins mourn the death of James I’s eldest son Henry in 1612, and Pierre de la Rue probably marks that of Philip the Fair in 1506. King David’s laments for Saul, Jonathan and Absalon provided the composers with their texts, and with an edifying biblical precedent. All this may sound like a blueprint for a rather lugubrious hour’s music, but the different national styles provide much variety. Chromaticism, that mainstay of plangent music, rears its head most prominently in the English pieces. The Franco-Flemish equivalent is the recourse to the Phrygian mode in Josquin’s Nymphes des bois or La Rue’s Doleo super te.
Gramophone readers may remember the Cambridge Taverner Choir for their fine recording of Portuguese polyphony (Herald, 1/94), short-listed for the Early Music vocal category in 1994. They bring their considerable qualities of ensemble and tone to the present disc, together with the restraint that so often characterizes English choral ensembles. Some may question the appropriateness of that quality, having regard to the anguished sentiments on display on so many of these tracks. The temptation to adopt a more declamatory approach must surely have been irresistible on occasion. On the other hand, the singers defend their native aesthetic convincingly enough: those who identify with it will find much to rejoice in, at least from a musical point of view.'

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