ALBUM TITLE: Her Heavenly Harmony: Profane Music from the Royal Court
WORKS: Works by Morley, Tomkins, Tallis, Weelkes, Morley, Byrd and Gibbons
PERFORMER: The Queen’s Six
CATALOGUE NO: RES 10164
I can’t recall hearing up to six male voices more perfectly blended than The Queen’s Six, choristers from St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Their intonation is immaculate, adjusting intervals within the shifting harmonies to create a warm and focused sound.
Their programme is inspired, too: 24 madrigals, ballets and ‘fa-las’ from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and beyond. It’s a fascinating mix of the familiar, Gibbons’s The Silver Swan, to the endearingly simple O ye tender babes, (Tallis) and the complex six-part Like two proud armies, (Weelkes). This, like all madrigals, is a tightly-bound marriage between words, and music. While court audience might have been familiar with most texts, clarity of diction is vital if we are to enjoy more than the pure musical sound. The Queen’s Six are clear enough in chordal opening statements but, once the following phrases are swallowed up in counterpoint, their words are largely lost, even through headphones. Using the liner booklet to penetrate this conflict of legato line and verbal clarity, innumerable subtle nuances immediately become clear.
The pieces are grouped under headings – ‘Royalty’, ‘Balletts’, etc – which gives a welcome overall structure to the disc though traps the singers in a common tempo: the first three madrigals share almost exactly the same speed.
Particular high points include the harmonic sideways steps in Weelkes’s Death hath deprived me and in his Thule, the period of cosmography; quiet reflections highlight the emotional intensity of the harmony – a rare instance of the sextet capitalising on dynamic contrasts.
A beautiful recording, which I will hear through again before long.