In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall’s Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina’s musical devotions to Saints Peter and Paul opened with the
composer’s six-voice motet, Tu es Petrus, and the parody mass which it
inspired. With just a single voice to each part, Carwood generated a strong
sense of forward movement and exploited the vibrant luminosity that
Palestrina’s ‘antiphonal’ effects create, as the three higher voices
alternate with the three lower strands in the opening phrases – an effect
which reappears in the movements of the mass. There was a gradual
blossoming as the music drove towards the confident statement, ‘Et tibi
dabo claves regni caelorum’ (And I will give you the keys to the kingdom of
heaven), but the mood remained buoyant and fresh. Though the six ‘solo’
voices cannot produce a rich sonorous blend such as might swell around a
Baroque basilica during a liturgical ritual, bathing the congregation in an
inspiring wash of resonant fullness, the differentiation of the individual
lines, each sung with strong character, enabled Carwood to subtly highlight
individual lines and phrases, which simultaneously injected muscularity
into the evolving polyphony, with the brightness of the soprano and alto
adding further ‘uplift’.

The movements of the Mass were interspersed with Gregorian chants for the
Feast of Saints Peter and Paul – Introitus, Alleluia Tu es Petrus,
Offertorium – Constitues eos and Communio Tu es Petrus – sung by tenor and
countertenor voices from the rear of Wigmore Hall.

The Cardinall’s Musick deliver their repertory directly and without
affectation, and the six voices invited an intimacy that is entirely
appropriate for Wigmore Hall. But, I could not help reflecting that this
music might not be similarly apt for the venue; it was not intended for
‘performance’ but for participation, in a spiritual sense, and would not
have been delivered in a ‘static’ manner but rather during the ritual
processions and acts of the liturgy, the sound moving through the
architectural spaces with wondrous and elevating impact.

That said, The Cardinall’s Musick sang the Mass with assurance and some
sense of the spiritual engagement it was designed to inspire. The
interweaving of the even lines of the Kyrie resolved into the purity of a
shining cadential ‘eleison’, the SSA group within the ensemble conveying
heaven-aspiring lucidity. A light flowing bass line in the Gloria created
relaxed momentum, though I felt that in this and other of the longer
movements, greater variety of dynamics and colour would have communicated a
stronger response to the text. Carwood demonstrated clear insight into the
formal structure of the movements though, producing a measured sense of
acceleration in anticipation of the ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’. And, the same
flexibility was evident and put to good effect in the Credo; the
expansiveness achieved with the phrase ‘Et incarnatus est de Spiritu
Sancto,/ Ex Maria virgine, et homo factus’ (And was incarnate by the Holy
Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man) was powerful. In the Sanctus
and Benedictus, the tender unfolding conveyed peace and assurance, and
again the strong but sweet bass line illuminated ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ from
below, with the voices finding surprisingly translucence with the
pronouncement of the blessing itself. With the Agnus Dei came a lowering of
tessitura, suggesting the arrival of a point of rest, which was
reassuringly achieved in the six-voice echo of the ‘Ite missa est’ (the
Mass is ended).

More Palestrina followed the interval, with Saint Paul taking his turn to
be venerated in the composer’s ‘Magnus sanctus Paulus’. Here, the power of
the full eight-voice ensemble made itself felt in the decorative floridity
of the appeal, ‘Qui te elegit, ut digni efficiamur gratia Dei’ (so that we
may be worthy by the grace of God); when repeated in the concluding
episode, the muscular counterpoint, driven from the bottom, truly conveyed
a striving to be ‘worthy’.

Saints Mark, Bartholomew and Andrew were honoured in music by composers who
are not such household names. Giovanni Bassano was employed in Venice as a
wind player and became leader of the instrumental ensemble at San Marco
Basilica. The rich homophony of the close of his ‘O rex gloriae’ a5
(published 1598) resolved into a lovely fluid Alleluia which wound its way
expressively through the syllables. The four-part ‘Sanctus Bartholomaeus’
(published 1586) of Jacob Handl was followed by Thomas Crecquillon’s
‘Andreas Christus famulus’ (1546). Little is known of Crecquillon’s life,
though he was associated with the chapel of the Emperor Charles V for ten
or more years from 1540 and was sufficiently esteemed for a major
retrospective of his motets to be published after his death (c.1557).
Crecquillon’s eight-voice motet ‘Andreas Christi famulus’ was composed for
the annual meeting of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1546 and was for a
time judged to be the work of CristÛbal de Morales. Here, as the
contrapuntal glories extended the compass, the tuning was less consistently
secure. Moreover, in this less familiar repertory, the singers were
understandably more score-bound and sometimes lacking in animation.

Sacred music from Spain in honour of the Virgin Mary concluded the
programme. Tom·s Luis de Victoria’s ‘Vidi speciosam’ a6 (1572) was
beautifully sung. The gently restful repetitions – ‘Flores rosarum et lilia
convallium’ (She was surrounded by roses and lilies of the valley) –
conjured the sweet fragrance of the Virgin who ascends from streams of
water, as beautiful as a dove. Here, the singers captured the drama and
spirituality of music, moving through the sublime harmonic progressions
with an animation sometimes lacking elsewhere. Carwood sat at the side
during the four-voice ‘Virgo prundetissima’ (1555) of Francisco Guerrero, a
prolific composer who was born in Seville in 1528.

Sebasti·n de Vivanco (c.1551-1622) was born in √vila at roughly the same
time as Victoria and has been rather overshadowed by the latter’s
achievements and renown. However, with the full complement of voices
reassembled, The Cardinall’s Musick showed us that, while less experimental
than Victoria, Vivanco could craft imposing counterpoint. The ‘Magnificat
octavi toni’ (published 1607) accumulated majesty through the evolving
parts, building to a series of statements of comfort and certainty: ‘Quia
fecit mihi magna qui potens est’ (For he that is might has done great
things for me), ‘Suscepit Israel puerum suum:/Recordatus misericordiae’
(Concerning Israel, his child: he remembered his mercifulness). The
blending of voices in the final Gloria Patri et Filio was reassuringly
resonant and firm.

Despite my minor misgivings about the partnership of repertory and context,
this was a beautifully sung programme – and a well-conceived one too,
engagingly introduced and explained by Andrew Carwood. The Cardinall’s
Musick will present another opportunity to enter the company of heaven in

January next year

, returning to Wigmore Hall to perform works focusing on Mary Magdalene and
other saints.

Claire Seymour

In the Company of Heaven
: The Cardinall’s Musick (Andrew Carwood, director)

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – Motet Tu es Petrus, Missa Tu es Petrus
(interspersed with sections from Gregorian Chant Propers for the Feast of
SS Peter and Paul), Magnus Sanctus Paulus a8; Giovanni Bassano – O Rex
gloriae; Jacob Handl – Sanctus Bartholomeus; Thomas Crecquillon – Andreas
Christi famulus; Tom·s Luis da Victoria – Vidi speciosam; Francisco
Guerrero – Virgo prudentissima; Sebasti·n de Vivanco – Magnificat octavi

product_title=In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall’s Musick (director, Andrew Carwood) at Wigmore Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id= Above: The Cardinall’s Musick