English music for a consort of viols presents a unique moment in the slow differentiation of vocal and instrumental genres. Viols played pieces drawn from the repertoire of vocal polyphony. In the Chapel Royal for which the composers represented here worked, such vocal pieces would have been sung unaccompanied. But when the music was performed outside of a church, in England's vigorous amateur musical culture, various things could happen. A singer might take the top line, which tied into stylistic forces already afoot in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, or an all-instrumental performance could be attempted. Furthermore, sacred and secular music might not be sharply differentiated. These options are explored on this attractive British release, which also offers the listener a chance to contrast the styles of the four "Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal": Thomas Tallis, Christopher Tye, William Byrd, and Thomas Tomkins; settings of the "In Nomine" tune by all four composers are included. Soprano Clare Wilkinson does a very good impersonation of an amateur vocalist, delivering a light, almost vibrato-less tone that makes her sound almost like another viol. The moods of the music are unusually varied thanks to the range of composition types included; there are madrigals, dances, dense Latin polyphony, simpler Anglican works, and the abstract In Nomines. The result is quite a lively disc of viol music in which something new is always happening, a bit of a surprise, perhaps, for those who love the "pure" viol consort sound, but just the thing for those who prefer concentrated melancholy in small doses. The album was recorded in a monastery, Forde Abbey, with superior results.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Salvator mundi (I) (also set as "Arise O Lord" and "With all our hearts"), motet for 5 voices, P. 216
O sacrum convivium (also set as "I call and cry to thee" and "O sacred and holy banquet"), motet for 5 voices, P. 210