CD review: A magical 500-year leap backwards into the wonders of the Eton Choirbook

A page from the Eton Choirbook representing a motet by composer John Browne, whose reationship with the fabled school started as a choirboy in the 1460s.

There was an in-joke among English choristers in the late 15th century: “The French sing, Italians shake, Germans wail and the Enlish rejoice” (Galli cantant, Italiae capriant, Germani ululant, Anglici jublilant, in the original Latin).

The national slurs are silly, of course, but it’s pretty much impossible not to reach a state of bliss after listening to a new album featuring seven pieces chosen by English a capella choir Tonus Peregrinus from the Eton Choirbook, one of the rare sources of English sacred music from the closing decades of the 1400s. Continue reading


CD Review: Phantasm viol consort brightens up broken musical rules of William Lawes

William Lawes, Consorts to the Organ (Linn)

English viol consort Phantasm has released a new album that celebrates the weird-and-wonderful musical world of William Lawes (1602-1645) with a collection of “consorts to the organ” that were performed at court, in the company of the composer’s friend and patron, King Charles I.

This chamber music, written in a polyphonic style where the viols pass the main musical lines to each other casually, as if playing a game of pitch-and-catch, is so unusual that Phantasm founder, director and viol master Laurence Dreyfus has written an accompanying essay, “Consorts to the Organ — A Guide to the Perplexed.” Continue reading

CD Review: Jean Mouton’s Renaissance polyphony in its full glory

Missa tu es Petrus (Hyperion)

There’s an alchemical reaction that takes place when Renaissance polyphony is sung well: the layers of voices (Thomas Tallis made it up to 40 in 1570) set up rhythmic vibrations — some sympathetic, some not — that open up trap doors to mystical depths. Continue reading

Video: Michael Slattery’s moving update on Dowland’s Golden Locks

New York City’s WXQR yesterday posted a video of tenor Michael Slattery singing (with pianist Todd Almond) one of his careful, moving updates on the songs of John Dowland. (You can read all about his work in an apppreciation and interview I wrote here.)

John Terauds

CD Review: New York Polyphony makes delight out of despair

endBeginning (BIS)

Renaissance polyphony is the next best thing to plainsong for a deeply meditative choral experience. In the case of this excellent new album from this unaccompanied male vocal quartet from Manhattan, one gets an entrancing dose of both. Continue reading

Video: New mass setting in old style with an eternal message about ignorance

Hip a capella quartet New York Polyphony, with a new album out, commissioned Missa Charles Darwin from Gregory Brown in response to the 200th birth anniversary in 2009 of the man who wrote The Origin of Species. It begins with a quotation from Darwin’s The Descent of Man that is perhaps more timeless than any sacred text:

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

The first 3 minutes of this video feature the opening of the Missa:

CBC goes live with new online classical channels and completely redesigned website

250 Front St. W. after the 2008 protest against cuts to CBC classical programming

The CBC has quietly gone live with a totally revamped website and online music offerings at, ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled official launch.

This is a huge change, meant to do several different things, starting with bringing CBC Radio, TV and web offerings together under one easy-to-navigate tent. The new site integrates the latest in social media tools, offers all manner of on-demand programming, video and audio as well as community tie-ins, like concert calendars by artist or city. Continue reading