WORKS: Missa Quem malignus spiritus plus choral works by Cooke, Damett, Frye, Power, Sturgeon
PERFORMER: The Binchois Consort/Andrew Kirkman
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67868
This is a magical and moving chance to hear music directly from the circle of Henry V and his son Henry VI. The centrepiece is a premiere recording of an anonymous English Mass (Quem malignus spiritus) in honour of John of Bridlington, the last English saint to be canonised before the Reformation. There are also some beautifully sung chants taken from his Office as found in the Wollaton Antiphonal, as well as polyphonic pieces from the centrally important Old Hall manuscript, most of them not heard on disc since the efforts of the Hilliard Ensemble (on Virgin Veritas) in the 1990s.
It would be difficult to imagine more tuneful, exacting interpretations of some of these compositions. The performance of Alma proles, for example, is lively and vigorous to the last note, and the improvised polyphony around the plainsong Asperges me brings an ancient practice vividly back to life. The many imitations between the top two voices in the Kyrie of the Quem malignus Mass, however, could have been more obviously displayed, and the sound, while clear, is a little dry. But this is an adventurous disc which provides a fascinating glimpse into the kind of soundscape that must have greeted Henry V on his return from Agincourt. Indeed, the opening Gloria by a certain ‘Roy Henry’ might well be by the King himself, and is displayed here with poise and alertness, albeit with the corrections which have been inked over Henry’s not always competent work by a more knowing scribe. Anthony Pryer