Leading performers of 17th-century music Fretwork, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts and the Magdalena Consort (directed by Peter Harvey) combine forces under the artistic direction of William Hunt for this first complete recording of the consort anthems of Orlando Gibbons.
Gibbons’ music is one of the artistic glories of the first Stuart reign. Amongst his sacred compositions, verse anthems such as This is the record of John and Behold, thou hast made my days are long acknowledged masterpieces, amongst the greatest in all English sacred music, but best known to most in their setting for choir and organ. Here they are presented together with an array of other great anthems, some of them scarcely known, in their more intricate and colourful versions for consort accompaniment.
Following the instruction of such contemporary writers as Morley and Caccini, these radical new performances place communication of text at the forefront, seeking to rediscover the dramatic essence of the verse anthem that made it arguably the most effective musical creation of the English Reformation. With the incisive declamatory skill of several of the UK’s leading period performers, they reveal the extraordinary rhetorical and poetic power of this music, as it might have been heard in the Chapel Royal and the private domestic chapels of early 17th century England.
Few other ensembles can match the range of Fretwork’s repertory, spanning as it does the first printed music of 1501 in Venice, to music commissioned by the group this year. Their recordings of arrangements of J. S. Bach have won particular praise, but they have recently issued a disc containing music by Grieg, Debussy, Shostakovitch, Warlock & Britten. This extraordinary breadth of music has taken them all over the world in the 25 years since their debut, and their recordings of the classic English viol repertory – Purcell, Gibbons, Lawes & Byrd – have become the benchmark by which others are judged. Their 2009 recording of the Purcell Fantazias won the Gramophone Award for Baroque Chamber Music.
The consistently high standards they have achieved have brought music old and new to audiences hitherto unfamiliar with the inspiring sound-world of the viol.