Elizabeth I of England not only enjoyed and patronized music, but also performed competently on the virginals and the lute. She was said to dance "six or seven galliards in a morning" as part of her "ordinarie exercise," well before Jazzercise and the like were invented. There are a lot of Elizabeth-themed albums, but this one might be called state-of-the-art, at least in terms of the research that underlies it. The program is billed as a collection of "Music for Elizabeth," but in fact that's only one of three categories represented. The other two are, first, music pertaining to major events of Elizabeth's reign -- either military or related to the Queen's long and active love life -- and, second, "music which Elizabeth likely heard or is known to have heard." In all these categories there are unusual pieces as well as well-known works to which scholarship has given a fresh twist. Among the latter group is Dowland's Can She Excuse?, a setting of a text probably by Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, and thus likely addressed to Elizabeth herself. Pieces less familiar to casual listeners include the viol song Each lovely grace by William Corkine, whose connection to Elizabeth is undeniable; the first letters of each line of its text spell out the name Elizabeth. Among the romantic and melancholy music of Elizabethan England the military ballads are rarely performed, but there are a pair here, both dealing with English victories over Spain: Lord Willoughby (track 3) and In Eighty-Eight (track 17), the latter a stirring tale of the rout of the Spanish Armada by a fleet of burning British "fire ships." The booklet will likely contain something new for all except experts in the Elizabethan field. The Toronto consort isn't a virtuoso group, but neither is it of the dully scholarly sort: accompanying the vocal music lightly and gently with such instruments as the gentle Renaissance flute, it has an enthusiastic, wide-eyed approach somewhat reminiscent of the glory days of English madrigal singing. The sound is never less than pleasant, and the disc may have applications in a variety of Renaissance presentations. Texts are provided for the vocal pieces, but are in English only.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim