Weelkes, Gibbons and Tomkins

COMPOSERS: Gibbons and Tomkins,Weelkes
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: I Heard A Voice
WORKS: Music of the Golden Age by Weelkes, Gibbons and Tomkins
PERFORMER: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge; Fretwork/Stephen Cleobury
CATALOGUE NO: 394 4302
The stellar line-up, the thoughtful programming, and the viol consort accompaniment all suggest this disc should stand out among collections of English sacred vocal music. But I heard these voices – and felt strangely disappointed. What happened?

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Fatigue seems to haunt this worthy performance. Stephen Cleobury’s deliberate tempos tend to dissolve the impact of the text – an effect particularly noticeable in Gibbons’s ‘O clap your hands’ – and impede any build-up towards cadential climaxes. Even worse still is the narrowness of the dynamic range. A statement of faith such as Tomkins’s ‘O sing unto the Lord’ becomes a formal address rather than a ringing acclamation.

Most surprising are the vocal weaknesses. When sections split, the textures of the treble and alto lines are often threadbare, and balance becomes a problem that the sound engineering fails to resolve. Solo singing ranges from sturdy to dismaying: the vibrato of tenor John McMunn shreds a musical line

whose power lies in its simplicity.

The viol consort fails to enrich this music, with no difference in approach audible between performance with the organ and that with the consort. Fretwork plays elegantly, but responds to the text only listlessly. While admirably

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high-minded, this performance fails to pay the ‘Golden Age’ back in its own coin. Berta Joncus