COMPOSERS: Gibbons Cobbold Weelkes Dering East
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: The Cries of London
WORKS: The Cries of London
PERFORMER: Theatre of Voices; Fretwork
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907214
This collection centres round a group of early 17th-century English works inspired by the colourful ‘common cryes’ of London street life. Orlando Gibbons, Richard Dering and Thomas Weelkes wove these raucous snatches into traditional viol consorts, resulting in a curious melange of rough and sometimes bawdy folk idioms and a highly-refined contrapuntal style. Gibbons’s The Cries of London is perhaps the most famous work of its type, with the voices of fish mongers, fruit sellers, tinkers, tailors, ‘beggarmen’ and, if not thieves, at least some references to them, all intertwined and overlaid in a strangely sweet cacophony.
Such a hybrid of art and folk traditions is not easy to recreate for contemporary ears, and issues of pronunciation, accent and characterisation come to the fore. Here, the singers adopt an ‘olde-worlde mummerset’, so giving a flavour of the cries without sounding too yokelish. If anything, the singing is a touch self-conscious and overly polite – after all, these works are anything but subtle in their comic and often derisive mimicry. Fretwork plays with exquisite refinement, creating a glowing halo of sound – beautifully recorded – around these far from angelic voices. Kate Bolton