The Golden Age of English Polyphony

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The Golden Age of English Polyphony. The Sixteen / Harry Christophers. Hyperion CDS44401/10, 2009.

Masters from Flanders: Polyphony from the 15th & 16th Century. Capella Sancti Michaelis; Currende Consort / Erik van Nevel. Etcetera KTC 1380, 2008.

Late 2009 saw the release of two ten-disc boxed sets, each packaged in a clamshell box with a small booklet and its component discs in cardboard sleeves, and each featuring performances of Renaissance vocal music by a preeminent choral ensemble. There the similarities between these two releases end. The Golden Age of English Polyphony focuses specifically on the work of four English composers retained by the House of Tudor between 1490 and 1590: Robert Fayrfax, John Taverner, John Sheppard, and William Mundy. Its ten discs contain previously-issued recordings made by The Sixteen under the direction of Harry Christophers between 1982 and 1992, several of which brought the works of these composers to large audiences for the first time. The repertoire focuses on Masses and motets, and the program features such usual suspects as Taverner's and Sheppard's parody Masses on "The Western Wynde" and Taverner's glorious Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, as well as a wonderful selection of more obscure small-scale works by Mundy, including a song for countertenor and organ. The Sixteen have always had an ensemble sound that some may find a bit hard-edged, and like the Tallis Scholars they favor a colorful blend rather than a creamy and homogeneous one, but the conviction with which they interpret this repertoire is unsurpassed and their sound is often soaringly lovely.

The second ten-disc box under consideration, though it gathers together music from roughly the same period, could hardly be more different in every other way. …


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