Henry’s Music: Songs & Motets by Henry VIII

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Jacotin,Sampson,Verdelot
LABELS: Obsidian
WORKS: Songs & Motets by Henry VIII; Motets from a Royal Choirbook: Sampson, Jacotin, Verdelot
PERFORMER: Clare Wilkinson (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Lawrence-King (harp); Alamire; Quintessential/David Skinner
CATALOGUE NO: CD 705

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The musical brilliance of the young Henry VIII is the subject of this disc: both his accomplishment as a composer and the excellence of his taste, particularly in sacred polyphony. The recording’s achievements accord fully with those of its subject: mastery in performance, in scholarship and in production creates a sublime listening experience.  

The freshness and sensitivity of Alamire distinguishes it from rival ensembles. David Skinner channels the singers’ skill to create a stunning architecture out of complex and sometimes ungrateful polyphonic vocal lines, drawing out phrases and dynamics to dramatic effect. The instrumentalists, whether accompanying or in consort, add pungency to this performance.

Rough-edged timbres – even in the harp of Andrew Lawrence-King – and bracing tempos hint subtly at the King’s machismo. My one quibble is that the instrumentalists’ freedom in songs by Henry VIII is not matched by any similar adventurousness on the part of the vocalists.

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The scholarship behind these reconstructions also deserves praise, as few performers today are able to integrate source materials into such a cohesive whole. From opulent motets to the monarch’s own passionate songs, we travel across Henry’s musical landscape, ending with the grand ‘tribute’ motet of 1509 by Robert Fayrfax. In short, here is a unique window onto a lost world. Berta Joncus