Returning to heaven: The Cardinall’s Musick at Wigmore Hall

The eight singers who formed The Cardinall’s Musick on this occasion – some
of whom are familiar figures from other ensembles such as The Tallis
Scholars and The Sixteen – know this repertory and how to perform it like
the proverbial back of the hand. But this no way lessens their
attentiveness, expressivity and accomplishment. Rather – refreshingly so,
in these days when we seem to be casting all continuity and cogency aside –
I felt swept up in what one might call the comfort of tradition. The
composers represented provided what was required, by Church and monarch,
day after day, month after month, year after year; and they did so with
confidence and certainty, of faith and fellow-feeling. And this performance
by The Cardinall’s Musick celebrated and sustained the values and practices
of such shared knowledge, experience and expectation. Past and present and,
one would hope, future, truly cohered.

That’s not to say that the misgivings I tentatively expressed about the
first concert in the series, didn’t persist here. It is strange to listen
to liturgical music that is the medium and expression of collective worship
being performed in a concert hall; it seems different in the case of the
Passions of Bach, and the oratorios of Handel, which have such driving
narratives and are dramatic and theatrical in character. However, the
quality and persuasiveness of the singing pushed any qualms aside. Director
Andrew Carwood achieved an excellent balance between a blended ensemble
sound and highlights of colour, as individual voices came to the fore, and
the security of the performances was underpinned by bass Robert Macdonald,
so often providing a relaxed and reassuring foundation. If I had any slight
reservation then it would be that occasionally the soprano voices were not
entirely attuned to the harmonic bed beneath them, though their sound was
bright and sensitively nuanced.

The programmes that Carwood devises, and his delivery of them, confirms the
sureness of his conceptions and intent, although in the compositions for
smaller combinations of voices I did wonder whether the singers ‘needed’ a
conductor. Tenor Steven Harrold was characteristically eloquent in his solo
contributions and alertly engaged with his fellow performers, and the
absence of a conductor might have encouraged more consistent ensemble
communication of this kind.

Thomas Crecquillon’s motet ‘Congratulamini mihi’ retells the story of Mary
Magdalene’s meeting with Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, following the
Resurrection. It is a stirring and vibrant work, and the five voices
conjured energy and expansiveness in the first section before coming to
rest on a soft cadential ‘Alleluia’ at the mid-point. Mary’s anxious
questioning in the second part of the motet, as she struggles to make sense
of the empty tomb, was darker in tone, and Crecquillon’s linear movement
led to some striking harmonies as the searching contrapuntal lines

Francisco Guerrero’s Mass Congratulamini mihi (‡ 6) takes up themes from
Crequillon’s motet. When Carwood and The Cardinall’s singers recorded the
Mass in 2010, on the Hyperion label, they placed the motet after the Mass
which parodies it, but here we had the more conventional ordering. This was
a truly polished performance, reverential in tone and sung with soaring
fluency. Carwood’s tempi were convincing and flexible. The interplay of
voices in the Kyrie was gentle, but towards the close there was a slight
pushing forwards, intimating a fresh sense of purpose as we looked towards
the ensuing Gloria, in which the three upper voices were beautifully
beseeching when asking for the Lord’s mercy, and vigour was derived at the
close from the conversations between the inner voices. In the Credo, the
lines ‘Et resurrexit tertia die secundum scripturas, Et ascendit in caelum’
(And he rose on the third day according to the scriptures, and ascended
into heaven) were wonderfully spacious, as Carwood held back the tempo,
allowing the expressive harmonies to make their mark, before once more
pressing on, ‘Et in spiritum sanctum Dominum et vivificantem’ (And in the
Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life). Harrold’s prominent tenor line in
the Sanctus was beautifully mellifluous and tender, but again Carwood was
alert to the varying sentiments and spirit of the text, building to a
buoyant ‘Hosanna in excelsis’, the rhythms of which were particular
muscular when the section was repeated after the more withdrawn Benedictus.
The triple-time pulse at the start of the Agnus Dei and the sweetly blended
sound were consoling, while with the shift to four beats in a bar there was
a heightened earnestness. The movements of the Mass were separated by
Gregorian chant propers for the Feast of St Mary Magdalene; those sung by
tenor Nicholas Todd made a particularly strong impression, the tone warm,
the phrasing expressively devotional.

Various female saints – Mary, Cecilia, Barbara – were celebrated in the
motets which formed the second half of the recital. I loved the way the
singers settled so soothingly and gratifyingly into the final cadence of
Peter Philips’ ‘Caecilia virgo’, calming the preceding vigour. Philippe
Verdelot’s ‘Salve, Barbara’ was one of the highlights of the evening, the
four voices (SATT) flowing through the melismatic lines with beguiling
tenderness. Carwood’s careful planning was evident in the progression of
pieces, the four lower voices in Adrian Willaert’s ‘In tus patientia’ which
followed presenting a pleasing contrast.

We heard more from Guerrero, his six-part ‘Surge propera’, and two settings
of ‘Cantantibus organis’ – Luca Marenzio’s four-part setting which was
notable for the beautiful soprano and alto duet that pleads for the Lord to
make hearts pure, and the more expansive and robust eight-part setting of
Daniel Torquet. And composers on this side of the Channel were not
neglected. The singers communicated the yearning intensity of William
Byrd’s ‘Salve regina’ and glowed through the increasingly rich harmonies
with which Byrd conveys the suffering of those groaning and weeping in the
vale of tears (‘Gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle’). After such
passion and power, Michael Praetoris’ ‘Regina caeli jubila’ for SSA was
refreshingly clean and the singing was free and joyful.

In the first concert of this series, Palestrina had been the magisterial
figure. Here, he was kept silent until the end, but when The Cardinall’s
Musick presented their final item, the composer’s Magnificat Primi Toni (‡
8), in which Carwood crafted a compelling forward drive, in was hard not to
feel that here was the true master at work – assured and reassuring.

The encore, Joseph lieber, Joseph mein by Hieronymous Praetorius –
chosen to mark Candlemas, which falls this Saturday and brings Christian
celebrations of the birth of Christ to a close – was beautifully sung but
rather dissolved the strength of the spiritual certainty and conviction
that Palestrina’s Magnificat establishes. What was most powerfully echoing
in my memory as I left Wigmore Hall was the expressive eloquence of
Nicholas Todd’s chants. Divine in every sense of the word.

This concert was recorded and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Thursday 31 st January; it will be available via

BBC iPlayer Radio

and the BBC Sounds app for 30 days.

Claire Seymour

The Company of Heaven II
: The Cardinall’s Musick

Thomas Crecquillon – Congratulamini mihi; Francisco Guerrero – Missa
Congratulamini mihi; Gregorian Chant – Propers for the Feast of St Mary
Magdalene; Peter Philips – Cecilia Virgo; Philippe Verdelot – Salve
Barbara; Adrian Willaert – In tua patientia; Francisco Guerrero – Surge
propera; Luca Marenzio – Cantantibus organis; Daniel Torquet – Cantantibus
organis; William Byrd – Salve regina; Michael Praetorius – Regina caeli
jubila; Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – Magnificat primi

Wigmore Hall, London; Wednesday 30th January 2019.

product_title=In the Company of Heaven II: The Cardinall’s Musick
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id= Above: Andrew Carwood

Photo courtesy of Rayfield Allied