Maarten Koningsberger / Brisk Recorder Quartet / Mike Fentross

Music of the Spheres

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AllMusic Review by

This disc from the small Dutch label Globe is for the studious-minded listener interested in Queen Elizabeth and the music of her reign. Its booklet notes are of the type that make the reader work: they don't simply run through the selections on the disc in order, instead making you figure out, say, which specific selections a general paragraph might apply to. But the end result for those who make the effort is a deeper understanding of several of the processes active in English music of this period and in Renaissance music generally. Consider the close reading the nameless booklet author gives to Dowland's familiar lute song Can she excuse, explaining its subtle reference to the Queen's complex relationship with the text author, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The disc also gives a good overview of Byrd's relationship with the Queen and of his general stance in regard to secular music of the period. One of the most attractive works offered here is the first, Ye sacred muses -- an elegy for Thomas Tallis. The tribute piece was a Renaissance staple, but Byrd's gorgeous example has been somewhat overlooked. It proceeds in sober homophony until erupting in polyphonic weeping at the end. This was an arrangement-happy era, and the consort pieces suffer not a bit from being played by the BRISK Recorder Quartet, especially given the group's sweet tone and precise intonation. The listener will have some complaints. The text authors are mostly not given -- providing them would have amplified many of the good points made in the booklet. The cover bills the disc's contents as consort songs and instrumental music when lute songs likewise constitute an important component; and the texts are given only in their original English -- a problem, in view of a few knotty poems, for non-Anglophone hearers (notes are in English, German, and French). Baritone Maarten Konigsberger has an attractive sound and a native's English pronunciation, but his expressive range is not wide. And the version given of Dowland's Fortune My Foe is a partial one, with only the man's verses of what was originally a dialogue conception. In view of the close attention given to this piece (variations by Scheidt and Sweelinck are included), that decision is odd, especially inasmuch as the disc contains 13 minutes of empty space. For all that, Elizabeth's modern-day devotees, and there are many, will get a good deal out of this recording.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
4:35
2
2:57
3
7:06
4
1:21
5
2:14
6
2:46
7
1:29
8
4:08
9
3:23
10
1:24
11
5:34
12
5:43
13
3:21
14
4:05
15
2:31
16
1:53
Work(s)
17
8:39
18
3:46
blue highlight denotes track pick