Tomkins: Verse Anthems and Consort Music

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COMPOSERS: Tomkins
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Verse Anthems and Consort Music
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby (soprano), Catherine King (mezzo-soprano), Charles Daniels (tenor), Donald Greig (baritone), Richard Wistreich, Jonathan Arnold (bass); Fretwork
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907320
The provenance of these five verse anthems is fascinating. They’re best known with solo voices, choir and organ, as Tomkins’s son published them in his great tribute of 1668, Musica Deo sacra. But three were copied 50 years earlier as consort songs – for viols, solo voices and vocal ensemble, and two more exist in Tomkins’s own hand. So viols are authentic, as are solo voices rather than the choir of cathedral or Chapel Royal – and, if performed as a domestic devotion, women rather than boys could well have sung the upper parts. The domestic ensemble here is distinguished indeed, with Kirkby, King, Daniels and Wistreich singing the solo episodes. To their eternal credit, they also search out the vowel sounds of Tomkins’s day – ‘rise oop/I loov…’ – the singers’ equivalent of what instrumentalists have been doing for over 50 years. The result is utterly captivating.

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Fretwork’s instrumental contribution includes dances, ‘In nomines’, and three of Tomkins’s four Fantasias in six parts (where close recording sometimes accentuates the ‘bark’ of vigorous bow-changes). It brings a wonderfully rich texture – and expansive: a twist from major to minor third is worked out to its limit, as are 19 variations on a six-note scale. A most rewarding disc. George Pratt