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In the Midst of Life

£12.00

Following its nomination for a Gramophone Early Music Award in 2014, Contrapunctus releases an album of motets from the Baldwin Tudor partbooks, on the theme of mortality.  Conducted by Owen Rees, the album includes Sheppard’s epic Media vita and works by Byrd, Parsons, Mundy, Teverner, Gerarde and Tallis, with Contrapunctus’s own reconstructions of the missing tenor parts.

SKU: SIGCD408

What people are saying

CD of the Week "Rees’s choir brings an intensity of sound and dramatic dynamics, in music that contemplates the pain of death in ecstatic elation and sublime devotion." The Sunday Times, February 2015

"The undeniable jewel in the crown of this selection is Sheppard’s magisterial setting of Media vita …  Contrapunctus is the ideal group for this superb repertoire, and I look forward with eager anticipation to future CDs in this series." Early Music Review, April 2015

"What an absolutely superb disc, both musically and musicologically! … The recital appropriately concludes with John Sheppard’s massive and magnificent Media Vita – listen out for me wonderful final verse, with it’s typically English gimell in both the treble and mean, supported by the bass, far below. Extraordinary music, gloriously performed!" Early Music Review, April 2015

"There’s lovely balance and clarity of sound from as fine a clutch of voices…as one might wish." Choir & Organ, May 2015

"4* – Whether you listen in Lenten penitence or in general hope of spiritual balm, the message is universal, the singing superb.." The Observer, March 2015

Choral and Song Choice "5* – Contrapunctus really knows what to do with these pieces and from the very first item…the tuning is superb and the ensemble rock solid. Moreover, Owen Rees’s interpretations are revelatory and even visionary…The next volume is keenly awaited." BBC Music Magazine, August 2015

Contrapunctus
Owen Rees director

Release date:9th Feb 2015
Order code:SIGCD408
Barcode: 635212040829

  1. Circumdederunt me dolores mortis – William Byrd – 5.04
  2. Libera me Domine – Robert Parsons – 7.29
  3. Audivi vocem de caelo – William Byrd – 4.15
  4. Sive vigilem – William Mundy – 3.31
  5. Peccantem me quotidie – Robert Parsons – 6.08
  6. Quemadmodum – John Taverner – 6.30
  7. Nunc dimittis – Thomas Tallis – 3.14
  8. Sive vigilem – Dericke Gerarde – 6.13
  9. Credo quod redemptor meus vivit – Robert Parsons – 2.44
  10. Media vita – John Sheppard – 23.09

Contrapunctus really knows what to do with these pieces and from the very first item – Byrd’s ‘Circumdederunt’ – the tuning is superb and the ensemble rock solid. Moreover, Owen Rees’s interpretations are revelatory and even visionary. Witness the subtle dynamic shading he applies to Willian Mundy’s ‘Sive vigilem’ and the very finely judged pacing of the drive towards the climax in Theodoricus Gerarde’s magnificent setting of the same text. Because these performances are so accomplished we are not distracted from the music by blemishes of execution, and so are able to relish the development of compositional skill, from John Taverner’s ‘Quemadmodum’ of C1525 with its already fully-fledged ethereal polyphonic style, to the unsurpassable marriage of harmonic suspension and melodic expansion in Byrd’s ‘Audivi vocem’ from the 1580’s. Some of these works are heard here for the first time because their lost tenor parts have now been reconstructed – another reason to be grateful. The recording is clean and warm…the next volume is keenly awaited.

BBC Music Magazine, Anthony Pryer

Like his counterpart in Scotland, Thomas Wode, John Baldwin is among a handful of musicians whom we have to thank for me preservation of a treasury of 16th-century choral music. Baldwin was particularly dilligent, recording almost 170 works from early in me century right up to his own lifetime in me last quarter of the 1500s, many of which survive as unique copies. Most of the output of John Sheppard survives this way, although the loss of the tenor partbook has necessitated the reconstruction of that voice, leading to Sheppard somewhat ‘missing the bus’ in the revival in the middle of me last century of interest in Tudor church music. Contrapunctus, under their enterprising director Owen Rees, are devoting a series of CDs to these important partbooks, grouping their programmes under themes. 

It may seem perverse to start with death, but its ubiquity and immediacy for Tudor composers has led to a particularly fine and poignant body of music remaining from the time. The undeniable jewel in the crown of this selection is Sheppard’s magisterial setting of Media vita which gives the CD its title, but the chief joy for me were the one or two works with which I was hitherto unfamiliar, such as William Byrd’s Circumdederunt me dolores mortis, which opens the programme, and the powerful sive vigilem by the Flemish emigre Dericke Gerarde. The singing throughout is consistently full-toned and focussed, but essentially for this repertoire constantly ready with expressive crescendos and decrescendos to mark textual changes in mood. With its nine highly experienced singers (boosted to ten for the larger works) Contrapunctus is the ideal group for this superb repertoire, and I look forward with eager anticipation to future CDs in this series. 

Early Music Review, D. James Ross

What an absolutely superb disc, both musically and musicologically! John Baldwin was a lay clerk at St George’s Chapel, Windsor at the time these five (originally six- the tenor is missing) partbooks were copied, between about 1575 and 1581. They contain a huge range of Latin-texted music, ranging in period &om Taverner to Byrd, much of it uniquely preserved. The present recording takes as its theme music "concerned with mortality – the fear of death and eternal torment, anticipation of the Day of Judgement, and the soul’s longing to meet God" and includes settings from the Catholic Office of the Dead, as well as penitential motets, perhaps for private Recusant use after the Reformation. With pieces (and performances) of such uniformly high quality, it is difficult to single out anyone especially, though Dericke Gerarde was a new name for me; his wonderfully expansive and expressive setting of Sive Vigilem is one I shall be replaying often! The recital appropriately concludes with John Sheppard’s massive and magnificent Media Vita – listen out for me wonderful final verse, with it’s typically English gimell in both the treble and mean, supported by the bass, far below. Extraordinary music, gloriously performed! 

Early Music Review, Alastair Harper

CD of the Week 

Without the Baldwin partbooks – owned by Christ Church College, Oxford – we would know nothing of John Sheppard’s magnum opus, Media vita in morte sumus, which gives this superlative album its title. John Baldwin sang in the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, between 1575 and 1581, during which time he copied some 170 works by the greatest composers of the Tudor age, from John Taverner (c1490-1545) to William Byrd (c1539/43-1623). He then moved to the Chapel Royal, where he took part in Elizabeth I’s funeral service and the coronation of James I in 1603. The tenor book is lost, so the tenor lines of Sheppard’s epic masterpiece, Robert Parson’s Peccantem me quotidie, Dericke Gerarde’s Sive vigilem and Tallis’s Nunc Dimittis are reconstructions. At the album’s thematic heart are "recusant" works by Byrd. Rees’s choir brings an intensity of sound and dramatic dynamics, in music that contemplates the pain of death in ecstatic elation and sublime devotion. 

The Sunday Times, Hugh Cairns