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fayrfax recordings

Missa O Bone Ihesu ­ Credo; Sanctus; Elevation Motet [Anima ChristiŠ] Resurrexio Christi; Benedictus; Agnus Dei Missa Regali Ex Progenie ­ Gloria; Credo; Sanctus/Benedictus; Agnus Dei

Recorded in the Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle; Nov 1994 ­ May 1997 [Masses] and 1999 [Motet] ASV Gaudeamus CD GAX 353

ASV have been lucky in their association with The Cardinall¹s Musick, for they have, in this group, not only an ensemble that bases all of its recording or performing projects on rigorous scholarship, but also an ensemble that can turn that scholarship into performance of the most sublime standard with apparently effortless ease. The Cardinall¹s Musick have developed a reputation amongst English early music vocal ensembles for the musicianly quality of their performances. Would that the same could be said about more such groups. In the case of The Cardinall¹s Musick, this is exemplified in the uniformity of the recordings presented in this excellent box set. The five masses were recorded over a period of two-and-a-half years, notwithstanding that the motet ŒResurrexio Christi¹ was recorded the same distance later. That there should be such consistency in the performances over this period of time says a great deal about the care that has been taken over the project. Too often, English vocal groups are a moveable feast of singers with only the conductor remaining as a constant feature and consistency of sound and style is difficult to maintain. There is no doubt that this is here achieved.

This aspect of sheer musicianship imbues these Fayrfax recordings with a quality of undeniable beauty. The performances have the polish that is the hallmark of this ensemble and the music is of the utmost sublimity. Fayrfax has long been one of those composers known as a name from the history books, but all too infrequently performed. Certainly the masses are complex works requiring skill in execution, but in these recordings architectural structure is displayed with clarity, while the shaping of phrases and the delicacy of figuration, between and within parts, is exemplary.

As well as this attention to detail, the production is handsome, with excellent booklet notes by David Skinner, the editor of The Cardinall¹s Musick¹s repertoire. Most interestingly, a complete score of the most recently discovered work, the elevation motet ŒResurrexio Christi¹ is included in the booklet. This work is recorded here for the first time, and the availability of a score makes for a fascinating introduction to the work. Whether this idea comes from the group, or from ASV it is one to be applauded when dealing with a work that will undoubtedly be unfamiliar to the listener.

If there is an aspect that this reviewer finds unsettling it is the division of the masses across discs. Especially in the case of the Missa O Bone Ihesu, where the amputated first movement is left on the end of one disc, with the torso of the mass reposing on the next, the sense of architectural conception that the performance creates is spoiled. This is a small point, and, given the generous length of the individual discs (none of which is shorter than 72 minutes) it is difficult to see how any other distribution of material would have been possible. Maybe the amount of material included is just a bit too generous for the space available. In every other respect this set is most recommendable.

© Peter Wells 2001

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