Music from the Reign of King James I

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Gibbons,Hooper,Ramsey,Tomkins
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Gibbons: Great king of gods; O all true faithful hearts; Fancy in C fa ut; Fancy in Gamutt flatt; See, see, the Word is incarnate; Fantazia of foure parts; Hosanna to the Son of David; O Lord, in they wrath rebuke me not; O clap your hands. Tomkins: Be strong and of a good courage; O sing unto the Lord a new song; When David heard; Then David mourned; plus choral music by Hooper and Ramsey
PERFORMER: Robert Quinney (organ); The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67858

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Although beautifully produced, this disc suffers from an uneven programme. Laments, sacred music, and dedicatee anthems composed during King James I’s reign admittedly contain many riches, particularly when from the pen of Orlando Gibbons. Music by Edmund Hooper and Thomas Tomkins, on the other hand, has longueurs that O’Donnell cannot mask.

Where words and music most happily merge – for instance in Gibbons’s Hosanna to the Son of David – the director and his vocalists exude confidence, animating melodic lines gracefully to reach a satisfying climax. In the largely contrapuntal O clap your hands, O’Donnell’s deft handling of voices brings a lovely delicacy to the texture.

The compositional clumsiness of Hooper’s Great Service, however, brings expressiveness to a standstill. O’Donnell fails to shape Hooper’s stodgy rhythms and predictable progressions into statements with impact. Though he was a finer craftsman than Hooper, several anthems of Tomkins are sturdy rather than inspired, and evoke a parallel response in the performers.

O’Donnell unwinds the tension of Robert Ramsey’s lament How are the mighty fallen too early, leaving his vocalists to slog their way to the cadence after a rallentando midway through the piece.

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Robert Quinney’s sensitively-played keyboard solos leaven the atmosphere, but not enough to maintain interest throughout. Well-intentioned and high-minded, this disc is unlikely to convert new audiences to the repertory it showcases. Berta Joncus