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By and For Henry VIII

available at Amazon
Henry's Music, QuintEssential, A. Lawrence-King, Alamire, D. Skinner

(released on May 1, 2009)
Obsidian CD705
The packaging and program concept of this new disc from the British early music ensemble Alamire is very similar to an earlier release by the same group. However, with the exception of one track, all of the music recorded here is new, motets and songs composed for the court and various chapels of King Henry VIII, as well as some pieces attributed to the king himself. The occasion is the 400th 500th anniversary of that monarch's coronation, June 24, 1509, an event that Alamire commemorated with a concert at the British Library last month. Many of these pieces have been recorded before, but there is considerable historical interest here because of the six motets transcribed from a manuscript in the British Library (MS Royal 11.e.xi), known to have been a gift to the king and queen at some point around 1518 and never before recorded. Just in time for the anniversary, the Folio Society has published a luxury facsimile edition, for a cool $795.

The vocal sound -- clean, beautifully tuned and blended -- is weighted toward male voices, with an earthy, somber tone in the low-oriented pieces. The motets from the manuscript are all worth hearing, devotions to Mary and prayers on behalf of the king. The singers use a largely English pronunciation of Latin, with Jesu as "Jesu" instead of "Yesu" and "spetsialem" for specialem, for example. The historical instrument ensemble QuintEssential provide some contrasts with short dance and consort pieces, the inimitable sound of the cornets and sackbutts, well played, but typically braying. Gothic harpist Andrew Lawerence-King adds another interesting color to the palette, an at times clumsy, metallic (even twangy, almost sitar-like) sound that has interest but not necessarily beauty. The primary attraction is in the vocal selections, from the excellent sacred music (especially the harmonically surprising Salve radix and the thickly textured and cross-relation-laden Quam pulchra es, by the mysterious composer known as Sampson, and the rather sublime Marian antiphon Sub tuum praesidium by one Benedictus de Opitiis, all from the manuscript) to the lighter secular songs, mostly by Henry VIII.


1 comment:

Rob Ainsley said...

There's a podcast about this release on the British Library website (17min, 7MB):

Alamire's David Skinner and the British Library's Nicolas Bell discuss Henry and his music. The podcast features extracts from the CD, and a complete performance of the Rose Canon, 'Salve radix'.

Rob Ainsley, British Library