Tonus Peregrinus

Music from the Eton Choirbook

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This exemplary album by British chamber choir Tonus Peregrinus, led by its founder Antony Pitts, includes seven works of Renaissance polyphony and plainchant from the surviving 64 surviving pieces from the Eton Choirbook, which dates from around 1500. It’s a mixed ensemble rather than the choir of men and boys that would have originally sung this music, but this is such an exceptionally fine performance that anyone who loves this repertoire, apart from the most diehard purist, is likely to be delighted with the chaste purity, expressiveness, and interpretive choices of Tonus Peregrinus. Musical notation of the period was far from precise or consistent, even in terms of exact pitches, so performers must apply scholarship and informed intuition to the choices the manuscript leaves open to interpretation. Pitts and the singers, based on years of study and familiarity with the material, opt, when appropriate, for an approach that gives the music a tonally bright, major-key quality that contrasts with the funereal dolefulness that can characterize performances of this repertoire. The choices are convincing and add considerably to the warmth and appeal of the album. The long fragment of Richard Davy's St. Matthew Passion and John Browne's Stabat mater are fittingly mournful, but works with texts like the Magnificat set by William, Monk of Stratford, and Hugh Kellyk, and Walter Lambe's Nesciens mater glow with joy and a sense of radiant well-being. Kellyk's work in particular, recorded here for the first time, exudes exuberance and untroubled happiness. The most unusual work is Robert Wylkynson's setting of The Apostle's Creed as a round in 13 parts, one part for each apostle, plus one. It's not only technically dazzling but intriguingly effective as it builds in density and finally recedes to a single line at the end. Naxos' engineers use experimental recording technology that beautifully captures and differentiates various polyphonic lines with unusual clarity and a clean, balanced blend.

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