CD REVIEWS: After 350 Years, Tomkins' Great Anthem Lives
Spem in alium. Choral music by Tallis, Gibbons, Byrd and Tomkins. The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (Coro).
When Cromwell's troops occupied Worcester during the Civil War the cathedral was used to stable their horses.
With the organ destroyed and the choir disbanded, it could hardly have been clearer to the elderly Thomas Tomkins, who had presided over music at Worcester for half a century, that his services were no longer required.
Before retiring to his son's home at Martin Hussingtree, where he busied himself adding the final masterpieces to the golden age of English keyboard music associated with his teacher Byrd, he composed an impassioned setting of Psalm 79: 'O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance...'
It is Tomkins' largest anthem, but if it ever had a performance in his lifetime it could only have been in a private setting. Now restored by John Milsom from a seriously incomplete surviving score, this magnificent piece can be heard for the first time in 350 years as part of this spectacular recording of English church music.
Several pieces have direct connections with English history. Tomkins' Know you not commemorates the sudden death at the age of 18 of Prince Henry, the elder son of James 1. William Byrd's Deus venerunt gentes is another setting, this time in Latin, of Psalm 79, in this case prompted by the martyrdom of the Jesuit Father Edmund Campion in 1581.
The unaccompanied Byrd setting receives a performance so ravishing as to be almost worth the price of the disc on its own. But the primary focus of this collection, which celebrates 25 years of Harry Christophers' superb choir, is Thomas Tallis's 40-part motet Spem in alium, which opens the disc in its familiar Latin version and closes it in the lesser-known English translation, Sing and glorify. Why 40 parts? According to legend, because of English chauvinism. An Italian motet in 30 parts was imported into England and an aristocrat challenged an English composer to top it.
Usually Spem in alium is a welter of sound, albeit a glorious one. This landmark recording is the first in surround sound, giving the homecinema listener a better chance of hearing its many individual voices. But played on conventional stereos it sounds wonderful too. HHHHH Review by Terry Grimley To order this CD for pounds 12.99, including post & packing, call our Music Line on 01634 832 789 Music of Charles Williams - BBC Concert Orchestra/Wordsworth (White Line CD WHL 2151 For those of us who spent our early years listening to the wireless and watching television when there was only one channel, this CD will bring back many happy memories. Charles Williams (1893-1978) enjoyed a long and successful career as Britain's most prolific composer of signature tunes and incidental music. Literally hundreds of films, radio and TV programmes were introduced and accompanied by his compositions, ranging from British feature films like While I Live, from which The Dream of Olwen made the charts in 1947, to the Young Ballerina, used to accompany the 1950s Potter's Wheel interlude on television.
Girls in Grey, a wartime piece written for the Women's Junior Air Corps, became even better known when it was used for the twice-weekly BBC Television Newsreel; and the rip-roaring Devil's Gallop acquired legendary status as the signature tune of Dick Barton, Special Agent. …