Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Album Review: Tune thy Musicke to thy Hart

Click to sample and buy the album 

Some of the most intense and deeply felt sacred music of 16th century England wasn’t  sung in the cathedral, but in domestic worship in private homes. The ascendency of the English Reformation proved dangerous and, at times, fatal for religious dissenters. Catholics and high church Anglicans were forced into private worship at home and the music heard on Tune thy musicke to thy Hart, the new album by Stile Antico and Fretwork, focuses on this “secular” (non-church) religious music by Thomas TomkinsThomas Campion, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons and others.

This is sparer music than would have been heard in the cathedral, more direct in expression with simpler melodic lines. In some cases popular styles, like the madrigal and lute song, also find their way into the mix, and a number of the works appear in both sacred and secular sources. That’s not to say that any of this music is necessarily “easy” or simplistic. John Browne’s gorgeous carol Jesu, mercy, has a communicative immediacy that’s powerful, but Browne also paints words, shifts key and shuffles the deck in a way that’s anything but simple. The madrigal anthem “O praise the Lord” by Tomkins is a showcase of 12-part polyphony loaded with antiphonal effects that certainly convinces us the musical literacy of “ordinary people” was pretty high in the 16th century.

Friday, February 10, 2012

New York Festival of Song Looks at Love

Tuesday is Valentine's Day so expect to be swamped with music celebrating affairs of the heart. There will be the usual blocks of love music on the radio and your music-loving friends will plaster your Facebook wall with Spotify playlists loaded with their favorite lovesongs. But on February 14 and 16 the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) will present a balanced view of affaires du coeur with their popular "A Modern Person's Guide to Hooking Up and Breaking Up" program. What better way to spend Valentine's Day than with a program of "songs of voyeurism, S&M, self-gratification -- and good old-fashioned heart-to-heart love."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Album Review: Canadian Brass Takes Flight

The Canadian Brass has been on the scene for over forty years and the formula for their success hasn’t changed much. You can always count on them to program a couple of barn-burning showpieces, a few Baroque tunes, a smattering of chestnuts and a ragtime or jazz rave-up. Canadian Brass Takes Flight proves that nearly a half-century of a good thing can continue to be a good thing.

Canadian Brass Takes Flight is what Daniel Guss calls in his effusive liner notes, “a kind of state of the union address by the group.” A cynic might say that means the overlying concept behind the dozen and a half selections is to serve as a showcase for what this talented quintet can do. If you think of Canadian Brass Takes Flight as a brilliantly played and smartly packaged greatest hits album you will not be disappointed.