COMPOSERS: Thomas Tomkins
ALBUM TITLE: Thomas Tomkins: Sacred Choral Works
WORKS: When David heard that Absalom was slain; Almighty God, which hast knit together; Magnificat; Nunc dimittis; Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom; A Sad Pavan for these distracted times; My Shepherd is the living Lord; Behold, I bring you glad tidings; Voluntary in A minor; Jubilate; Clarifica me Pater; Te Deum
PERFORMER: Freddie James (organ); Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha
A highly recommended overview of Tomkins’s choral church music: this disc opens with the familiar When David Heard, beautifully introduced by upper voices, though lower ones take a moment to settle. Diction is excellent, essential as Tomkins colours words in such detail and so expressively – David’s plaint, ‘Would God I had died for thee’, is intensely poignant. So too, in Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, ‘the worthiness’ of the crucified Christ evokes staggering dissonances.
The solo sections in the verse anthems are outstanding. Selected trebles achieve a rare purity of sound, and the solo men match them, in clarity, and sensitivity to the contrapuntal warp and weft. Full trebles too are striking, 17 of them in superbly focused unison at the opening of Behold I bring you glad tidings. In places the full-choir men are less unified, their ensemble more dense, though the total effect remains incisive and distinctively characterised. You can’t mistake the ‘St John’s College’ sound.
Freddie James plays, on a charming ‘continuo’ organ, three pieces including A Sad Pavan for these distracted times, Tomkins’s plaint at the Parliamentarians’ suppression of church music – a remarkable expression of deep and musically ingenious melancholy.
Jeremy Summerly’s notes are an inspired bonus. George Pratt