See, See, The Word is Incarnate
Works by Gibbons, Tomkins and Weelkes
Robin Blaze (countertenor), James Grimwood, Nicholas Murphy (tenor); Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge; Newe Vialles; Orpheus Britannicus Vocal Consort/Andrew Arthur
Resonus RES 10295 70:51 mins
The two previous discs by Trinity Hall choir have focused on Buxtehude and the young JS Bach. Here they move back in time to the early-17th century when Gibbons, Weelkes and Tomkins served under James I – though Tomkins lived on long enough to see the Puritans destroy his organ at Worcester Cathedral. The title of the disc is taken from an anthem by Gibbons and reflects a growing churchly emphasis on the words of scripture rather than ritual and display.
We begin with one of the most famous anthems by Gibbons, ‘This is the Record of John’, scored for soloists (from the Orpheus Britannicus Consort), the choir and an accompaniment of viols. The general effect is impressive and warmly resonant, though the size of the choir (23 male and female singers) makes for a slight lack of clarity in the complex textures. The full power of their singing operates better in a predominantly chordal work such as Weelkes setting of the 23rd psalm, ‘My Shepherd is the Living Lord’. More opportunities for dramatic display and the ‘painterly’ use of dynamics and pace could have been taken in some of these pieces – Gibbons’s ‘See the Word is Incarnate’ for example contains descriptions of the angels singing, the earth quaking, the sun darkening and a rousing Hosanna at the end. The great musical treat on this disc is the playing of the viol consort, Newe Vialles. They are simply brilliant in Gibbons’s Fantasia a 4 and Tomkins’s Fantasia VII a 3.