Hymns, Psalms & Lamentations

Gallicantus / Gabriel Crouch

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Hymns, Psalms & Lamentations Review

by James Manheim

British vocal group Gallicantus, here a vocal octet, does not strive for the uncanny blend pursued by other ensembles with a small number of singers per part; instead they offer performances and presentations that bring deep context to Renaissance music and strive to differentiate the music of one composer from another's. It works well in his collection of music by the little-recorded Robert White, who was born in the early 1530s and died of plague in 1574. Most of his surviving pieces date from the early part of Elizabeth I's reign. That raises the question of why all but one are in Latin. It is unknown whether White, like Byrd a generation later, was working for underground Catholics, whether he benefited from Elizabeth's protection as Byrd did, or whether he worked in Latin-language musical settings that survived during Elizabeth's first years. Whatever the case, the music is a fascinating mix of old and new. You wouldn't pick White to listen to over Byrd, but he was clearly Byrd's predecessor: The shorter motets, many of them setting pslam texts, use an old-fashioned style in which polyphonic sections alternate with plainchant, but White tries to merge this style with the polyphonic music of Josquin and others that he was clearly hearing from continental Europe. The chant is worked into points of imitation, the text gets more specifically set than in the music of Tye, whom White succeeded (and whose daughter he married), and sometimes there are quite striking passages of homophonic clarity. The high point is the fine set of Lamentations that concludes the album; this is a form that somehow suits White's style, and Gallicantus nails his setting, written in the grim Phrygian mode. With strong engineering from London's All Hallows Church, this release can be recommended to English Renaissance buffs.

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