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The history of music is grateful to the obscure Elizabethan and Jacobean tenor layclerk John Baldwin, who in the 1570s and 1580s copied around 170 works into a single set of six partbooks preserved at Christ Church Oxford. Many of them are pre-Reformation Latin scores and eight of those dedicated to the Virgin Mary comprise this second disc focused on the Baldwin books by the group Contrapunctus under conductor-musicologist Owen Rees. Some reconstruction is involved, as one of the books, ironically Baldwin’s tenor part, is missing, but there is no sense of incompleteness in the performance. Superb artistry coupled with informed scholarship is a Contrapunctus hallmark.

They open with Tallis’ Gaude gloriosa, a polyphonic masterpiece of symphonic proportions in nine movements, each beginning with the word ‘gaude’ (rejoice). Full voiced unapologetic adoration is the message with the sections varying in texture from the thinly personal three low voices at the start to the thickly universal when the sopranos enter at ‘omnia’ (all). One might wish to hear more prominently the cantus firmus plainsong running through Robert White’s Tota pulchra es as the congregation might have done. Around it the contrapuntal weft is so richly coloured that only the ear most familiar with it is able to pick it out.

Rees conducts with calm unhurried speeds respectful of the music, rarely rallentandoing as if with each track he were simply latching on to the eternal measured flow for the duration. Tuning is immaculate throughout and the occasional gem-like false relations sparkle like brilliant diamonds in the Queen of Heaven’s crown.

Rick Jones Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Early Music Today, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing