COMPOSERS: Various composers
ALBUM TITLE: Anne Boleyn’s Songbook
WORKS: Music & Passions of a Tudor Queen: music by Brumel, Compère, Despres, Févin, Mouton, Sermisy and anon
PERFORMER: Clare Wilkinson (mezzo), Jacob Heringman (lute), Kirsty Whatley (harp); Alamire/David Skinner
CATALOGUE NO: CD 715
The manuscript known as Anne Boleyn’s Songbook displays both the splendour and the intimacy of early 16th-century music from the European courts. Perhaps owned and used by Anne herself, this varied and eclectic collection leafs through English songs, French chansons, sumptuous Latin polyphony and delicate instrumental works.
Among many treasures are Brumel’s fleeting but sublime Sicut lilium, the liquid and melodious love songs Venes regrets and Jouyssance vous donneray, Josquin’s darkly austere Praeter rerum seriem and his hauntingly beautiful Stabat mater, not to mention some fine yet unknown anonymous works. The music is tinged throughout with the hues of melancholy, and nowhere more so than in the concluding lute-song, O Deathe rock me asleep the chilling words of which may have been penned by Anne or one of the condemned men accused of being her lover, shortly before their execution.
Scholar and director David Skinner brings his expertise to both the editions and the performances here by his vocal consort Alamire. He never shies from expressive gestures and dynamic variations – effects heightened by the responsive acoustic of the Fitzalan Chapel in Arundel Castle.
Alamire’s sound is robust and muscular, full-bodied rather than pristine. Mezzo-soprano Clare Wilkinson sings the solo songs with ingenuous simplicity, subtly inflecting the words with period pronunciation, while Jacob Heringman and Kirsty Whatley weave beguiling traceries on lute and harp. Unlike some recordings dedicated solely to Renaissance polyphony, this trove never grows monotonous and, even after an hour-and-a-half of music, one is left longing to hear more from this intriguing manuscript. Kate Bolton-Porciatti