- Briefly Noted
Tarik O’Regan; Guillaume de Machaut; Gavin Bryars. Scattered Rhymes. Orlando Consort; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir / Paul Hillier. Harmonia Mundi USA HMU 807469, 2008.
Commentators and critics have long noted connections between various strains of art music in the twentieth century and the music of the medieval and early Renaissance periods. Pioneering minimalist composer Steve Reich (1936–) was fascinated by hocketing and canonic figures; the sacred music of Arvo Pärt (1935–) frequently harkens back specifically to the raw, open harmonies of late-medieval church music; George Crumb (1929–) wrote actual madrigals (albeit in a modern style) in the 1960s. The present disc makes such connections explicit by placing a three-movement a cappella work by the young composer Tarik O’Regan (1978–) next to Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de [End Page 393] Nostre Dame, the earliest known complete Mass setting and an iconic work of the Ars Nova period. O’Regan’s Scattered Rhymes takes its lyrics from two fourteenth-century poems of Petrarch, both dealing with the poet’s unrequited love for a young woman but from very different perspectives: one more romantic and sensual, the other endowing the object of his obsession with seemingly celestial qualities. In this piece O’Regan takes small musical ideas directly from Machaut’s Mass and incorporates them into his own work in a variety of ways, some more obvious than others, using the four-voice Orlando Consort and the larger Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir alternately. The result is both brightly energetic and passionately intense, and it illustrates perhaps more brilliantly than any other musical work the connections between the Ars Nova movement and the post-tonal twentieth century; it also complements beautifully the dark, vinegary sound of the Machaut Mass setting, which follows it directly on the program.
The remainder of the disc is given over to two more pairings of ancient and contemporary works: Machaut’s setting of the motet Ave Regina celorum is followed by Gavin Bryars’ (1943–) setting of the psalm text “Super flumina Babilonis”; the two compositions are connected by the legend of a young girl who was saved from drowning by the monks of a fourteenth-century Yorkshire abbey. In the final pairing, Machaut’s lovely and simple virelai “Douce dame jolie” is juxtaposed by O’Regan’s expanded and harmonically complicated adaptation of the same piece. As a whole, the program offers a fascinating and remarkably satisfying illustration of both the parallels and the distinctions between ancient and modern compositions of the highest quality.
Henry’s Music: Motets from a Royal Choirbook; Songs by Henry VIII. Alamire; Quintessential / Andrew Lawrence-King. Obsidian CD705, 2009.
Henry VIII remains one of England’s most well-known kings, infamous for his ruthlessness and for the political and religious strife between his regime and that of the Holy Roman Empire. He was also an enthusiastic patron of music (he inherited a court of six musicians and eventually increased that number to fifty-eight), an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, and a composer of significant ability. Although his accomplishment as a musician has been widely noted his actual compositions have not always received the attention they deserve. This disc brings together an interesting assortment of works from Henry VIII’s environment, consisting of works written both for and by the king. At the center of the program both literally and figuratively is a collection of six motets from British Library MS Royal 11.e.xi, a choirbook that was prepared for the king and given to him in 1518, and the contents of which are recorded here for the first time. These are lovely pieces of somewhat mysterious origin; several, including the strange “Rose Canon” (notated in a circle around a beautifully rendered rose), are attributed to an obscure German composer known only as “Sampson”; another has recently been attributed to the equally obscure “Jacotin,” while the composer of yet another remains unidentified. Surrounding these are incidental instrumental pieces by Henry himself—none of them unusually brilliant but all very fine—as well as a handful of lovely songs for solo voice. The program ends, somewhat puckishly, with a gorgeous antiphonal setting by Robert Fayrfax (1464–1521...