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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Orlando Gibbons, Complete Concert Anthems, In Chains of Gold, The English Pre-Restoration Verse Anthem Vol. 1, Fretwork, Her Majestys Sagbuts and Cornetts, Magdalena Consort

In Early Music, you can freeze a moment in time, and if you lovingly reconstruct the moment and the moment is a good one there can be magic. Fretwork, His Majestys Sagbuts and Cornetts, and the Magdalena Consort take a passing but valuable moment in the English Pre-Reformation, freeze it and reconstruct it with stunning sonance. And so we have Orlando Gibbons' Complete Consort Anthems as Volume 1 of The English Pre-Reformation Verse Anthem, In Chains of Gold (Signum 511).

The music is performed with period accuracy and vital enthusiasm. The title comes from a 1597 text by Thomas Morley, where he expresses the desire for a choral ensemble that "draw[s] the chains of gold by the ears to the consideration of holy things." Gibbons' Anthems provide ample means, an eloquent contrapuntal, mellifluous vehicle to allow the choral Magdalena Consort a way clear to some profound, earthy heaven of music. They and their instrumental cohorts give us every reason to appreciate this music in all its specific period glory.

The vocalist are beautifully central to this fine program. They articulate each part with a kind of period purity that brings out the ravishing starkness without artifice, a sweetness born of immersion and singular focus.

The brass ensemble has great color. It punctuates and gives breath and breadth to the soundings when it is present. Harp and organ plus five viols add sonorous depth and a special glow this period music attains when allowed to return to its proper instrumentation and method of delivery.

Gibbons has in the past suffered from lackluster and inauthentic performance practices. You might say that of much of the vocal music of similar time and place, certainly in the period of recordings from say 1950-1970. But Gibbons enchants when he is allowed to sound as he wished to sound. The Magdalena Consort and accompaniment give us every reason to grasp and embrace the unfrozen moment of music we may have been in too great a hurry to stop and truly appreciate until now. We have a rare opportunity here to stop the rush toward ever changing teleology that music history can often be. It matters not for the moment what came before, what came after.

We are invited to savor the beauty of what once was for a time only, yet speaks to us now without a need to put together before and after. That is what the Early Music movement does at its best. The Consort and assembled musicians give us ideal readings. It allows us to experience what once was in ways that embody yet transcend a time long gone. Kudos! Any adventuresome listener, archaist, or wide-eared adept will find this program enlightening and enrapturing. Highly recommended.

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