Much-loved vocal ensemble The Cardinall's Musick launched this year's Proms Chamber Music series with a near sold-out concert that marked the 500th anniversary of the coronation of King Henry VIII.
The programme blended sacred and secular texts by leading composers of the time and began with a spirited performance of Pastyme with good companye by King Henry himself. The energy and vigour of the singing felt as is if it owed much to the interpretations of the early music pioneer David Munrow who captured public attention when he popularized this repertoire in a BBC TV series nearly forty years ago. And although The Cardinall's Musick gave all vocal performances they were just as full of energy and passion as those colourful instrumental versions that many of us remember.
The next composer in the programme was Fayrfax, who enjoyed much royal patronage and was a particular favourite of King Henry VIII. The Gloria from his early mass setting, Missa Regali ex progenie felt slightly out of place in the carpeted interior of Cadogan Hall but there was such beautiful phrasing by the two sopranos as they alternated solo sections that I quickly forgot the brightness of the hall and lost myself in the musical texture. What the venue suited best, however, were the secular songs and, in particular, Ah, Robin, gentle Robin by Cornysh which provided one of the most beautiful moments of the whole concert. This was performed SSA, with Carys Lane setting the mood with clear diction and deep involvement in the text. Then followed King Henry's own Úlas, madame and the intriguing Benedicte! What dreamed I? also by Fayrfax. In this last song the narrator incredulously remembers a dream in which his world has been turned upside down and plunged into crisis, in this case 'Thy lady hath forgotten to be kind!'
In a short on-air interview with presenter Suzy Klein at the mid-point of the concert Andrew Carwood described the next piece, Sampson's Psallite felices, as the 'last great hymn of praise in honour of a sovereign,' and indeed it was basically a list of King Henry's apparent virtues but in a slightly pedestrian, older style and possibly not as well known by the ensemble as the other works. The concert ended with three sacred pieces; Taverner's Christe Jesu, pastor bone (with Cardinal Wolsey's name changed to that of King Henry), Tallis's famous Sancte Deus, sancte fortis and Ludford's Domine Jesu Christe. Here, as always, The Cardinall's Musick were completely on top of their game, confident in the architecture and style of individual phrases and consistently high in the standard of their ensemble singing. They sang Tallis's setting of Nunc Dimitis as an encore.
This lunchtime concert was a most enjoyable start to the Proms Chamber Music series at Cadogan Hall and a fitting remembrance of King Henry VIII who, as we were reminded by Andrew Carwood, was a great patron of the arts and presided over a fascinating period of British music history.
This concert was broadcast Live on BBC Radio 3 and will be available as audio on demand for the following week.
By Ed Breen
Concert review: Handel's Partenope at the 2009 Proms
CD review: The Cardinall's Musick perform sacred music by Praetorius (Hyperion CDA 67669)
CD review: Handel's Faramondo on Virgin (2166112)
Concert review: The First Night of the 2009 Proms