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In Chains of Gold

Magdalena Consort; His Majesty's Sagbutts & Cornetts; Fretwork/William Hunt (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

In Chains of Gold
English Pre-Restoration Anthems by Byrd, Bull, Cosyn, Morley, Hooper and Mundy
Magdalena Consort; His Majesty’s Sagbutts & Cornetts; Fretwork/William Hunt
Signum Classics SIGCD609   70:29 mins

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Reconvening the forces of his viol consort Fretwork, the voices of Peter Harvey’s Magdalena Consort, and His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, the second instalment of artistic director William Hunt’s foray into the pre-Restoration verse anthem majors on William Byrd; nods to John Bull and Thomas Morley; and includes two historically-charged works by Devon-born Edmund Hooper who became Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey in 1588. ‘Harken ye nations’ was written in the slip stream of the Gunpowder Plot, while ‘O God of gods’ celebrates the anniversary of the accession of James I, culminating in a concluding verse of right royal pomp and circumstance – realised here with an ear-tingling fulsomeness that guarantees the disc a splendiferous climax.

The underpinning scholarship doesn’t just run to artful reconstructions, teasing missing viol parts out of extant organ sources. The metal pipework of a Tudor-style organ adds a distinctive, penetrative support to the anthems, and takes centre-stage with fantasias by Byrd and Bull as well as a pair of voluntaries by Benjamin Cosyn – all nimbly articulated and despatched with gnarly purposefulness by Silas Wollston. At the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, the grainy, dark hues of Fretwork’s viols lend extra introductory plangency to Byrd’s ‘Hear my prayer’. And, following their lead, the voices never strive for effect but achieve a subtly-blended equipoise encouraging a beguilingly fluid and natural interaction between solo voices and vocal consort – the essence of the verse anthem dynamic. It sets a marker for all that follows as ‘chains of gold’ (a reference to Morley) are spun with disarming felicity.

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Paul Riley