Philips: Cantiones Sacrae

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Cantiones Sacrae from Cantiones sacrae, prœcipuis festis totius anni et communi sanctorum
PERFORMER: Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/Richard Marlow


 This is a superb recording of works that range from mostly masterful to occasionally tedious. Philips had a schizoid musical personality: a Catholic, he fled to the Rome after training in England and completed his career in the Lowlands under two different patrons. His five-voice Cantiones Sacrae are a compendium of the diverse influences he was subject to.

Unexpected dissonances (English sacred polyphony), kaleidoscopic textures (from the multiple choirs used in Roman services) and suave madrigalisms (after taste in the Lowlands) are characteristic of this collection. Jewels are plentiful, as in the antiphon Salve Regina, whose delicate lines and searing suspensions are magnificently realised by the Choir of Trinity College.

Philips’s writing can, however, get bogged down in detail – as, for instance, in the motet Surgens Jesus, which dissolves into aimlessly circling chords. In such cases, the musical material traps director Richard Marlow into micro-managing dynamics to inject interest.

Generally, however, the choir’s sensitivity, poise and purity of sound generate a deeply moving performance. Engineering deftly captures each nuance and heightening of musical gesture. Given that he was the most published English composer after William Byrd, Philips is underrepresented in recordings.


This disc illuminates a legacy which, despite periodic longeurs, richly deserves a hearing. Berta Joncus