Virgin and Child: Contrapunctus performs works by Tallis, Taverner, Sheppard, Fayrfax and White

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COMPOSERS: Fayrfax,Sheppard,Tallis,Taverner,White
LABELS: Signum Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Virgin And Child
WORKS: Works by Tallis, Taverner, Sheppard, Fayrfax and White
PERFORMER: Contrapunctus/Owen Rees
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 474

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This is the second volume of motets to be reconstructed and recorded by Owen Rees and Contrapunctus from more than 170 works that the tenor John Baldwin copied between 1575 and 1581. Little is known about the man who preserved these jewels of pre-Reformation polyphony, copying them for money or perhaps for love. Baldwin was born sometime before 1560, served as a lay clerk at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and died in the summer of 1615. He had an interest in Italian madrigals and William Byrd’s keyboard music, and, to judge by the works he copied, a keen ear for word-setting and a penchant for the rhetoric of repetition.

Where Rees’s first Baldwin album centred on the theme of mortality, the second is devoted to Marian music by Fayrfax, Sheppard, Tallis, Taverner and White. As before, the consort’s blend is natural rather than rigidly smooth, with beautiful transparency from the altos, a sonorous bass-line and a steady, secure pulse. The impression is of wandering through a sequence of chapels, some tall and dazzlingly bright (Sheppard’s Verbum caro, with its brilliant final chord), some strikingly dark and heavy (Tallis’s monumental Gaude gloriosa Dei mater and Videte miraculum). Rees plays cleverly with contrasts in scale, inserting White’s intimate Regina caeli between Videte miraculum and Fayrfax’s spacious, starry Ave Dei Patris filia. A slight unevenness of tone in White’s Tota pulchra es is soon corrected and the Tallis Magnificat is pleasingly forthright.

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Anna Picard