So strong is the perceived distinction between public sacred works and private secular ones during the Renaissance that the pieces here have been almost completely ignored, even though several of them are by the top rank of English composers. These are counterparts to the secular English madrigal: small polyphonic pieces in English for use in home devotional observances. Some, in fact, are very much simply sacred madrigals: Giovanni Croce's From profound centre of my heart (track 10) has a very madrigalian illustration of Psalm 130's "sad groans." Others are more like English-language motets, while Thomas Campion's Never weather-beaten sail is a deceptively simple work rooted in the older anthem style. One of the best features of this album is the presence of several fine examples of the instrumental In nomine in a context in which they make sense. These pieces formed a tradition lasting from John Taverner (whose iconic example is included here) up through at least Henry Purcell; each is based on a melody appearing at the words "in nomine Domini" in the Benedictus movement of a mass by Taverner. These pieces are usually sandwiched in among viol consort pieces, but they fit better with these intimate vocal works: they are, in a sense, pieces based on a tune everyone knew. It is easy to imagine the whole program being played by a nobleman's small consort of musicians, and the joining of two distinct groups, the vocalists of Stile Antico and the instrumentalists of Fretwork, is accomplished without a seam. Harmonia Mundi contributes sound that perfectly fits the quietly thoughtful mood. This is a must for serious collections of English Renaissance music.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas|