Philips: Cantiones sacrae octonis vocibus

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LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Philips: Cantiones sacrae octonis vocibus
WORKS: Cantiones sacrae octonis vocibus (1613)
PERFORMER: Choir of Royal Holloway; English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble/Rupurt Gough


Peter Philips (c1560–1628) was an English composer who was described in the 17th century as ‘one of the greatest masters of musicke in Europe’. His music even features in a painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder. This year is the 500th anniversary of perhaps his greatest collection – the Cantiones sacrae for eight voices. It contains some 30 items, and this disc has half of them. It may be that Rupert Gough will record the others later, though some have already appeared on the Naxos label with Andrew Mackay and the Sarum Consort.

The Royal Holloway Choir is adept and musical and, at its best, can pull off splendid performances as we can hear in the opening ‘Benedictus Deus noster’ where voices and instruments combine. Elsewhere that combination can be suspect, as in ‘Benedictus Dominus’ where the over-fussy cornett elaborations swamp the vocal soloists, and also in ‘Panis sancte’ where the choir seems distant and the words difficult to catch. The plainsong singing is measured and serene, though the sharpened leading notes in ‘Ecce panis’ seem odd, as does some of the word accentuation (‘patríbus’ for ‘pátribus’?). The highlight of the disc is the shapely and effective performance of ‘Caecilia virgo’ which makes the most of the timbral contrast between the groups. And the disc ends with a version of ‘Hodie nobis’ that is full of panache.


Anthony Pryer