The Eton Choirbook
The Eton Choirbook (c1500) has received quite a bit of attention over the years, but several of its works have still not been recorded. This is partly because some survive in fragmentary form in the manuscript, but other neglected items are certainly complete and here Paul Van Nevel has presented three of them (Sutton’s Salve Regina a 7, Horwood’s Magnificat a 5, and Sturton’s Gaude Virgo a 6) for the first time.
These are wonderful pieces, performed in a warm acoustic and with a sure sense of monumental effect. It is the details that need tidying up. For example, with all the works sung at written pitch, the low close harmonies of the male voices in the Sutton work at ‘vita dulcedo’ are turned into a muddy soup by the echoey acoustic; and the extraordinary harmonies of the Sturton piece – especially the move to D flat at the mention of the fruit of Mary’s womb – really deserve more magical treatment.
The Salve Regina by Wylkynson and the Stabat Mater by Brown are deservedly much recorded, and these are effective performances. But in the former, rhythmic details are unstable in the ‘Et pro nobis’ section, and in the latter, the imitation gets slightly lost in the ‘Ut sibi complaceam’ episode. However, the choir deserves credit for its fine tuning and its sure-footed alertness to the overall musical architecture.