A Treatie of Humane Love: Organ works by Peerson performed by James Johnstone

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COMPOSERS: Peerson
LABELS: Regent
ALBUM TITLE: Peerson
WORKS: A Treatie of Humane Love: Mottets or Grave Chamber Music I Fagiolini; Fretwork
PERFORMER: James Johnstone (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: REGCD 497

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This premiere recording of Martin Peerson’s A Treatie of Humane Love (1630) is a deliciously serious foray into the soundscape of early Stuart intellectual and musical society. Peerson’s engaging settings of Sir Fulke Greville’s lyric poetry explore the multifaceted nature of profane and sacred love. The rich complexity of the imagery in Greville’s Caelica, at times bewildering and unashamedly difficult, finds beauty and even whimsy within Peerson’s melodic compass. The importance of the collection, context and content requires some historical unpacking, which is beautifully executed by editor Richard Rastall and scholar Gavin Alexander – but the music stands alone and this a standout performance. 

Fretwork’s musical mastery and I Fagiolini’s trademark incandescent sound are perfectly married in this repertoire. Directors Richard Boothby and Robert Hollingworth find an organic momentum which carries the music from profundity to gentle humour, spotlighting varied textures and accents within these often-characterful vignettes (for instance, You little Starres). They set a tone of letting the listener in on a secret, one imbued with false relations (Love is the peace), rising dissonance (Time faine would stay), and sublime suspensions (Love, the delight). Otherworldly harmonies are discovered in the direct pairing of voices and viols (Selfe pitties teares), but in heightening dissonance and extending the pain metaphor, ‘sixth-comma meantone’ tuning system occasionally challenges the comfort of listening in the upper parts. From the subtle colours of James Johnstone’s continuo tapestry to sumptuous low vocal notes, the clarity of recording is exceptional.

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Hannah French