Anonymous: Thomas gemma Cantuariae/Thomas cesus in Doveria – St. Thomas honour we – Clangat tuba – Lullay, I saw – There is no rose – Marvel not Joseph - Ecce quod natura – Ah! My dear son – Sancta mater gratiae/Dou way Robin
John Plummer: Anna mater – O pulcherrima mulierum
Walter Lambe: Stella Caeli
William Cornysh: Ave Maria, Mater Dei
Sheryngham: Ah, gentle Jesu
The Hilliard Ensemble: David James (Countertenor), Rogers Covey-Crump (Tenor), Steven Harrold (Tenor), Gordon Jones (Baritone)
Recording: Propstei St. Gerold, Vorarlberg, Austria (November 2012) – 67’
ECM New Series #2408 – Booklet in Latin and English
How time has flown! The Hilliard Ensemble is retiring this month, after singing for 30 years before the public and before recording microphones. The group’s final CD “Transeamus” (which translates as “Let us journey”) is a compendium of carols and motets from 15th century England. During three decades these remarkable musicians have journeyed through an exceptional range of repertoire, including some 20th century (most notably, works of Arvo Pärt); however, their foundation has always been music of the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
“Transeamus” will be a treasured finale for the group’s fans worldwide. In 14 selections, their polish, intonation, musicianship and unstinting scholarship come across with an immaculate sheen that has been lovingly captured by ECM’s engineers in the Abbey at St. Gerold. The group’s sonority has a powerful, consistent focus throughout the recording, though there is genuine variety in mood and subtle variations in timbre throughout.
The first three selections are texts addressing the martyrdom of St. Thomas of Canterbury (better known now as Thomas à Becket) and well illustrate this range. The first, Thomas gemma Cantuariae, is lively, while the next two, St. Thomas honour we and Clangat tuba, are slower and more conspicuously devotional.
The remaining music focuses on the birth, life and martyrdom of Christ. John Plummer’s Anna mater offers tribute to Mary’s own mother, Anne, and carries a mood of gentle adoration. Lullay, I saw is a beautifully sustained portrait of Mary watching over her child sleeping, while O pulcherrima mulierum celebrates maternal pulchritude.
There is no rose is a traditional carol celebrating the infant Christ. Walter Lambe’s Stella Caeli continues this theme, though with a more ambitious, indeed, grandiose palette – it is almost a fugue celebrating the Star of Heaven. Another traditional carol, Marvel not Joseph, then the anonymous Ecce quod natura ponder with delicacy the matter of the virgin birth. A third carol, Ah! My dear son, and the anonymous Sancta mater gratiae/Dou way Robin relate Mary’s devotion to her child, then her own eventual grief.
The disc ends with Sheryngham’s Ah, gentle Jesu, an elaborate homage to Christ’s ultimate martyrdom. David James, The Hilliard Ensemble’s countertenor, comments in the CD’s booklet that this work often leaves both listener and performer “in stunned silence.” With The Ensemble’s retirement after such a stellar career, the silence now may be permanent.
However, with recordings of this unique calibre as a legacy, we may anticipate that the work of The Hilliard Ensemble will be frequently resurrected.
Charles Pope Jr.