Choir of Magdalen College and Phantasm perform choral works by Thomas Tomkins

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COMPOSERS: Thomas Tomkins
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Tomkins
WORKS: Magnificat & Nunch dimittis (Fifth Service); Sing unto God; Rejoice, rejoice and sing; Fantasias XIV, XVII & XVIII; Pavans VI & VII, etc.
PERFORMER: Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford/Daniel Hyde; Phantasm/Laurence Dreyfus
CATALOGUE NO: OA CD 9040 D

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Decades ago, shamefully underprepared for a tutorial with Dr Bernard Rose at Magdalen College, Oxford, I happened on arrival to mention a striking piece I’d just heard by Tomkins. This unlocked a torrent of information, research, and enthusiasm from Rose – and my indolence was forgiven or forgotten. This disc is a tribute to Bernard Rose, on the centenary of his birth. He edited Tomkins’s music for Musica Deo Sacra so that
it can readily be heard today. 

Rose’s heritage is still discernible, 50 years on, particularly in the clarity of the boys. He used to mock ‘hooting’ trebles in choirs elsewhere and, in the resonance of Magdalen College Chapel, still achieved remarkable clarity of diction from his singers, immediately apparent in Sing unto God, the first of five verse anthems here. Tomkins’s verse anthems are especially inventive – for instance, after the conventional long alternating sections of solo and then choral singing, Thou art my King ends with very short exchanges of single phrases between the two textures, creating unusually dramatic intensity. 

A rich vocal density arises in the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Fifth Service) sung at low pitch rather than the brighter ‘high pitch’ normally used. The viol consort Phantasm accompany the verse anthems, and also play Fantasias and dance music. The Fantasias are remarkably daring; in XVII a6 for instance, every fourth note of the initial theme drags the music down an unexpected semitone – Dreyfus’s programme note imagines Gesualdo confronting the Witches in Macbeth! A fine tribute to Rose’s inexhaustible enthusiasm for Tomkins.

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George Pratt