Wednesday 11 November 2015

Anne Boleyn's Songbook

Anne Boleyn's songbook
Anne Boleyn's Songbook; Alamire, David Skinner; Obsidian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 27 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Music associated with Anne Boleyn from manuscript she once owned.

Anne Boleyn's Songbook is a manuscript, currently in the Royal College of Music, which contains a mixture of early 16th century motets and chansons, and has an intriguing link to Anne Boleyn who signed one of the pages. For their latest project Alamire and their director David Skinner, who has been researching the manuscript, have recorded 19 items on Obsidian Records, and are joined by Clare Wikinson (voice), Jacob Heringman (lute) and Kirsty Whatley (harp) for the chansons. We caught David Skinner and Alamire performing the programme live at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and you can read my review on this blog.

The manuscript has uncertain origins but seems to have been started when Anne Boleyn was at the French court, and probably came back to England with her. It looks like a sort of musical commonplace book, and any of the pieces have intriguing links to Anne Boleyn's situation in their subject matter such as giving birth to a son.

David Skinner has strong views on the the way this music sounds, often using low keys and preferring to keep the music in the centre of the singers voices. The performances are strong and vibrant, with a great sense of detail.

The first disc opens with Jean Mouton's Tota pulchra est which is slow and intense, sung just by the men with some fine low basses; the whole making a rich, dark and vibrant sound. Josquin's Stabat mater dolorosa has a lovely darkness to it with the sopranos flowing over a strong canus firmus; a strong and intense piece. Antoine de Fevin's Tempus meum est ut revertar is highly concentrated and Brumel's Que est ista is rather wonderful. Josquin's large scale Liber generationis, which finishes the first disc, is large scale in a performance of plangent vibrancy.

But is is the anonymous items which have particular interest as they are only known from this manuscript. In Fer pietatis opem miseris mater the group makes a strong sound but with a nice flexibility and good details. Popule meus quid fecit combines powerful individual lines in a strong, slow build. It is large scale and rather sober.

The final motet is Josquin's Prater rerum seriem sung at quite a low pitch to create something deep dark and thrilling with a highly sculptural sound.

Clare Wilkinson sings the French chansons in clear pellucid tones finely supported by Jacob Heringman and Kirsty Whatley. They form an interesting contrast with the choral numbers, and make the sort of programming which would probably not have happened without this pairing in the manuscript.

This manuscript has all sorts of fascinating musical and historical connections, the links to Anne Boleyn being tantalising and intriguing. but in this recording David Skinner and Alamire bring the music to life in strong vibrant performances.

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