Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Missa Per arma iustitie; Domine Ihesu Christe; Ave Dei Patris Filia
PERFORMER: The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
Best known for his simple musical settings in the Book of Common Prayer, John Merbecke (Marbeck), c1505-c1585, was also a highly skilled polyphonic composer. On this latest release, The Cardinall’s Musick sings the antiphon Domine Ihesu Christe – ‘arguably the most successful of his surviving compositions’ according to the notes – with immaculate poise, underlining its sinuous free counterpoint and startling harmonic events. They convey the formal and expressive equilibrium in Ave Dei patris filia with clear resonance in the passages for smaller vocal groupings, reaching an impressive climax for the words ‘Ave Ihesu’ (sung by the full choir) at its heart. Likewise, the group sounds compelling in the main piece, Missa Per arma iustitie. Here, they vividly communicate the score’s powerful message, eloquently articulating the hypnotically interwoven melodic threads that culminate in illuminating word-painting at strategic points in the text. Listen, for example, to the movingly opulent proclamation of Christ’s name in the Gloria, the sopranos’ entry that signals Christ’s ascent into heaven in the Credo and the spiritually uplifting opening to the Sanctus. A Virgin and Mother’s simpler emotions contrast strikingly with Merbecke’s complex, Latin settings. Enhanced by the reverberant acoustic of Arundel Castle’s Fitzalan Chapel, this disc is a winner. Nicholas Rast