Tuesday 28 October 2014

Hilliard Ensemble - Transeamus

Transeamus - The Hilliard Ensemble Transeamus; The Hilliard Ensemble; ECM New Series
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 28 2014 The final disc from this ensemble after a 40 year career

This disc is virtually impossible to review, not because you cannot have a critical opinion about it (quite the contrary), but because this is the last disc from the Hilliard Ensemble (David James, Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold and Gordon Jones). After a forty year career they are retiring and this is the final of their many discs. Transeamus (Latin for 'we are going') is the ECM New Series label where many of the group's other discs are.

For the group's first disc they recorded music from the court of Henry VIII. And whilst they have never regarded themselves as an early music group (contemporary music has always been strongly in the mix) this early repertoire is one with which they are strongly associated.

For Transeamus the group returns to the 15th century to perform English music by John Plummer (c1410 - c1483), Walter Lambe (c1450 - c1504), William Cornysh (1465 - 1523) and Sheryngham plus much anonymous music with some old favourites and some not so familiar, with works in two, three and four parts. The group's sound quality is very much what you might expect. You would hardly be reading this review unless you were familiar with it and comfortable with the distinctive sound that David James's counter-tenor makes.

The disc was in fact recorded in 2012, at their favourite recording venue the Alpine monastery of St Gerold in Austria where most of the 20 albums for EVM have been recorded. And returning to familiar repertoire the singers seem more relaxed than on some recent recordings and their performances are highly characterful. Between them they bring an inordinate number of years' experience to the recording, and this counts for a great deal in the way that the works are put over textually, musically and dramatically. The pieces on the disc, with their fascinating combination of text and music, benefit from this attention. Words are projected through the music and the results are often rather poignant.

As David James says in his programme note, harmonically the pieces are often simple and could go for nothing. On paper the final work on the disc, Sheryngham's Ah gentle Jesu, looks nothing at all. But as anyone who has heard them perform this live knows, in performance the group makes it enormously moving and it makes a fitting conclusion to a very moving disc.

You will not buy this disc if you want 15th century English Music performed according to the latest historically informed practice. But if you want it to reflect the benefits of 40 years of performance experience, and act as a testament to one of the UK's most distinctive performing groups, then this disc is for you.

Anonymous - Thomas gemma Cantuariae / Thomas cesus in Doveria
Anonymous - St. Thomas honour we
Anonymous - Clangat tuba
John Plummer - Anna mater
Anonymous - Lullay, I saw
John Plummer - O pulcherrima mulierum
Anonymous - There is no rose
Walter Lambe - Stella Caeli
Anonymous - Marvel not Joseph
Anonymous - Ecce quod natura
William Cornysh - Ave Maria, Mater Dei
Anonymous - Ah! My dear Son
Anonymous - Sancta mater gracie / Dou way Robin
Sheryngham - Ah, gentle Jesu
The Hilliard Ensemble (David James countertenor, Rogers Covey-Crump tenor, Steven Harrold tenor, Gordon Jones baritone) 
Recorded November 2012
ECM New Series 418 1106

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