COMPOSERS: John Plummer,Walter Lambe and Sheryngham,William Cornysh
LABELS: ECM New Series
ALBUM TITLE: Transeamus
WORKS: English Carols and Motets by John Plummer, William Cornysh, Walter Lambe and Sheryngham
PERFORMER: The Hilliard Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 481 1106
The Hilliard Ensemble brings its 40-year-old career full circle in this, its final CD, in which it returns to some of the repertoire of its first ever recording. Laced together here are some of the pearls of 15th-century English polyphony, with its characteristic harmonic warmth – the celebrated ‘Contenance Angloise’ that inspired a new musical expressivity in early Renaissance Europe. Among many lovely works are John Plummer’s Anna mater, with its garlands of perfumed sound, Walter Lambe’s lofty Stella Caeli, by turns intricate and austere, and Sheryngham’s Ah, gentle Jesu, a simple yet haunting dialogue between Christ on the Cross and a penitent sinner.
The accounts are intimate and subtly coloured, the Hilliards’ distinctive sound still unsullied, four decades on. The singers’ faultless clarity of diction, highlighted by the close recording perspective, sheds light on the words and their tender, Marian sentiments. Nothing is forced or exaggerated, but the ensemble’s finely judged balance and tuning let the music speak for itself. The programme is infused with a wistful air, the Christmas texts bitter-sweet in their combined celebration of creation and an awareness that all human things must end: fitting sentiments for this poignant, valedictory recording.