Gibbons: Hymns and Songs of the Church

COMPOSERS: Gibbons
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Gibbons
WORKS: Hymns and Songs of the Church
PERFORMER: Tonus Peregrinus
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557681
Here are all the melodies attributed to Gibbons in Hymnes and Songs of the Church (1623), with four compositions by Pitts and associates ‘to vary the palette’. I’ve insufficient space to discuss the reasons why English church music developed as it did up to Gibbons’s time, but this palette certainly needed varying. The evolution of post-Reformation church music was influenced by a strong Calvinist tendency which, in the long-running controversy over whether music or text must be servant, favoured the words. To me, the results sound impoverished when measured against the church music of Tallis’s time. Though Gibbons was an accomplished contrapuntalist, these pieces reflect that tendency towards musical plainness. Some tunes have a spare elegance and surface attraction, but most are predictable and uninspiring. Generally they evoke uncomfortable pews and jobbing sermons rather than the soaring spirituality of earlier church music. Inner parts, omitted from the published scores, are supplied with plenty of flair and imagination by Pitts and Alexander Lestrange, but the result is still an uncharacteristically colourless recital by this excellent choir. Barry Witherden

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