COMPOSERS: Blow & Aldrich,Estwick,Goodson,Locke
LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Music from Ceremonial Oxford
PERFORMER: New Chamber Opera Ensemble/Gary Cooper
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 222
The Oxford University degree ceremony known as the ‘Act’ was originally intended as an academic showcase for graduands. But, as it developed into a prestigious courtly entertainment its intellectual purpose diminished and music was specially commissioned to entertain the guests. This disc presents music offered at the Act festivities, much of which has been unperformed since it was first heard in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
The stately pomp of Richard Goodson’s ode Ormond’s Glory, Marlborough’s Arms is vividly evoked by Gary Cooper and his musicians, the instrumental band providing stylish support for the singers’ bold declamations. The same composer’s Janus did ever likewise underlines the celebratory nature of this music sung in thanks for Marlborough’s military victories.
The immediacy of the New College acoustic enhances the vividness of these performances. However, despite the distinction of Cooper’s playing, I found the 1994 Wadham recording of Locke’s C major harpsichord suite uncomfortably reverberant. Compare the pure sonic clarity in Blow’s organ voluntary.
Finally, notwithstanding some unsettling vibrato, the ensemble blends effectively in Estwick’s Julio festas referente luces, and rich textures in Aldrich’s Britannia reinforce the creative variety of a repertoire that has languished for too long on library shelves. Nicholas Rast