Philips: Cantiones sacrae quinis vocibus

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LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Cantiones sacrae quinis vocibus
PERFORMER: Sarum Consort/Andrew Mackay; Nigel Gardner (organ)
Peter Philips, sometime (maybe) pupil of Byrd, was like his probable mentor a Catholic. Unlike Byrd, however, he enjoyed no special favour at court, and fled England for Rome, a period of travel, and finally settlement in Antwerp, via arrest in Amsterdam on grounds of being involved in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth I. Byrd’s influence, and that of European composers in whose ambit he worked for so many years, shows in the 18 sublime and varied motets taken from his 1612 Cantiones sacrae. Often he illustrates his texts with the same poignancy and ingenuity as does Byrd. The booklet notes rightly highlight, for instance, the lovely ‘Mulieres sedentes’, whose static opening harmonies signify the sedentary state of the weeping women, and whose simple downward motif – obvious, maybe, but no less effective for that – denotes their weeping. Completely contrasting in atmosphere are the exultant rising phrases of ‘Surgens Jesus’, while often – as in ‘Factum est silentium’ – there is a madrigalian immediacy and variety in Philips’s response to text. ‘O crux splendidior’ exhibits prayerful meditation, ‘Ave verum corpus’ takes a similar homophonic approach to Byrd’s famous setting, ‘O nomen, Jesu’ radiates a rapt reverence, and so on, until the final, utterly sublime ‘Hodie Beata Virgo Maria’, whose ending suggests a circle of eternity. Under the direction of Andrew Mackay, the Sarum Consort sings everything with poised intensity and does this lovely, underrated music every possible justice. Stephen Pettitt