The Hilliard Ensemble: Audivi Vocem (ECM New Series 1936)


The Hilliard Ensemble
Audivi Vocem

The Hilliard Ensemble
David James countertenor
Rogers Covey-Crump tenor
Steven Harrold tenor
Gordon Jones baritone
Robert Macdonald bass
Recorded March 2005 at Propstei St. Gerold
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Audivi Vocem highlights the work of three English composers—Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585), Christopher Tye (c. 1505-1572), and John Sheppard (c. 1515-1558)—during a period of great liturgical change in the wake of King Henry VIII. Represented here are key works in the latter days of Henry’s reign, what David Skinner calls a “musicologically grey period.” We cannot, however, help but see bursts of colors in the shadows of Tallis’s In ieiunio et fletu, which welcomes a program of uniquely affirming polyphony, for behind the repenting veneer we see ourselves wrapped in the brokenness of social order. Such would seem to be the touches brought to floral life by David James’s unparalleled countertenor strains, casting light as they do onto the relief of the Salvator mundi and smudging us over into the denser knots of Tye’s Omnes gentes plaudite.

Tye, in fact, is the glue that binds this set through his Missa Sine Nomine, itself refracted into a series of signposts on the way toward silence. His crunchy dissonances and thick harmonies capture the spirit of an age in decline (Gloria), even as they cast their arms toward rapture (Sanctus). These weighted clouds break for the music of Sheppard, whose light shifts our focus into the album’s tenderest moments. The haunting tenor lines in his Beati omnes give us an especially glorified account of time, while the Laudate pueri Dominum falls like water along stone.

This recording is more “present” than the Hilliard Ensemble’s usual and allows for a closer view of the harmonies woven throughout, giving guest bass Robert Macdonald plenty of room to lay his ground. A lovely, if saddened, selection of music, but nonetheless important for lamenting an era without hope.

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