Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks Vol 5
  • Geremia
    Posts: 193

    Blue Heron / Scott Metcalfe

    CD booklet

    Exultet in hac die (Hugh Sturmy)
    Ave Maria mater dei (Robert Hunt)
    Vae nobis miseris (John Mason)
    Kyrie orbis factor (Anonymous)
    Missa sine nomine (Anonymous)


    This impressive recording is the fifth of a series devoted to the music of the Peterhouse Partbooks, so called because, though copied by a single scribe at Magdalen College, Oxford, in the closing years of Henry VIII’s reign, they are currently housed in the college of that name. Part of the set – notably the tenor partbook – having been lost, the reconstruction of the music not surviving elsewhere has been the life’s work of the British scholar Nicholas Sandon, which has made possible this extensive survey of the repertory.

    Blue Heron are a multivalent group. Here they sing with two or three voices to a part, using adult trebles for the top ones, as is customary in this repertory. Their tone and approach is more reminiscent of English ensembles than most mixed American choirs I can think of (more full-bodied than Pomerium, for example, or even some English groups one could name). As the final volume of a long-term project, it is right that this should count among the most polished, but I suspect that their sound may take some listeners by surprise. At full stretch there isn’t a weak link from top to bottom, and at their best (that is, usually) the trebles stand comparison with those of far better-known ensembles either side of the Atlantic: try the Mass that forms the centrepiece here.

    By and large the series has focused on music whose performance is only possible through Sandon’s ministrations. Among the high points of previous instalments are three antiphons by Hugh Aston (Vol 1), Nicholas Ludford’s Missa Regnum mundi and a Salve regina by Richard Pygott (Vol 2). Those names will be familiar to aficionados of this repertory, but here the focus is on figures who are either really obscure or actually nameless. Don’t let that put you off: the Mass in particular is superb. Whoever wrote it almost certainly knew Taverner’s Gloria tibi Trinitas, for echoes of it abound, yet it is no slavish imitation. For this piece alone the disc is worth owning. The confident rendition of Hugh Sturmy’s Exultet in hac die sets the tone and the more extended Ve nobis miseris by John Mason gives the male voices a chance to show off, but in the Mass things get seriously impressive. I doubt whether I’ll be alone in thinking this one of the discoveries of the year.

  • Many thanks for this.
    I am very impressed with their sound and blend, including the tone of the women trebles. It is my observation of even with some of the most reputed ensembles that women, in place of boys, tend to spoil the blend with a certain heaviness of tone and that tell-tale smidgen of vibrato that they just can't seem to avoid/control and which tends to obscure the inner voices. That's not the case with Blue Heron.
    This remark should not lead any to think that I am opposed to women in church choirs. Far from it. But for performances that are professionally recorded with an eye to 'authenticity', that is another matter.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen cesarfranck
  • Geremia
    Posts: 193
    Other than their inconsistent pronunciation—e.g., "excelsis" in Ecclesiastical Latin (ekstʃˈɛlsis), but in track 2 (Ave Maria mater dei) they pronounce "celi" (=cœli) with a soft "s" (sˈɛːli, not tʃˈɛːli) and in track 4 (Orbis factor) they pronounce "immense" (=immensæ) as immˈɛnsɪ, not immˈɛnse—it is a well-done recording.

    (Interestingly, Ave Maria mater dei also gives her the title "imperatrix inferni," a title I for her I'd never heard of before.)
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 377
    Interesting that though apparently created at Magdalen College, Oxford, the partbooks somehow made their way to Peterhouse, Cambridge. I understand that the partbooks are now held in Cambridge University Library.