In the Midst of Life

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Byrd,Gerarde,Mundy,Parsons,Sheppard,Tallis,Taverner
LABELS: Signum Classics
ALBUM TITLE: In the Midst of Life
WORKS: Works by Mundy, Taverner, Tallis, Gerarde and Sheppard
PERFORMER: Contrapunctus, Owen Rees
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD408

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The Baldwin Partbooks contain some 170 works dating from the middle years of the 16th century. They were copied out around approximately 1580 by the composer John Baldwin while he was at St George’s Chapel in Windsor. That was lucky because a significant amount of the music survives from nowhere else, and much of it is absolutely first-rate.

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Contrapunctus really knows what to do with these pieces and from the very first item – Byrd’s Circumdederunt – the tuning is superb and the ensemble rock solid. Moreover, Owen Rees’s interpretations are revelatory and even visionary. Witness the subtle dynamic shading he applies to William Mundy’s Sive vigilem and the very finely judged pacing of the drive towards the climax in Theodoricus Gerarde’s magnificent setting of the same text. Because these performances are so accomplished we are not distracted from the music by blemishes of execution, and so are able to relish the development of compositional skill, from John Taverner’s Quemadmodum of c1525 with its already fully-fledged ethereal polyphonic style, to the unsurpassable marriage of harmonic suspension and melodic expansion in Byrd’s Audivi vocem from the 1580s. Some of these works are heard here for the first time because their lost tenor parts have now been reconstructed – another reason to be grateful. The recording is clean and warm, though very slightly distant. The next volume is keenly awaited. Anthony Pryer