Classical CD Reviews

PETER PHILLIPS: Cantiones Sacrae (1612) – Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/ Richard Marlow, conductor – Chandos Chaconne

Superb music from a huge talent but lesser light.

Published on July 3, 2010

PETER PHILLIPS: Cantiones Sacrae (1612) – Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/ Richard Marlow, conductor – Chandos Chaconne

PETER PHILLIPS: Cantiones Sacrae (1612) – Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/ Richard Marlow, conductor – Chandos Chaconne 0770, 77:55  [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Peter Philips (1560/61–1628) was supposedly the most published English composer after William Byrd, but you would not know that by his popularity—even in Britain—today. A lot of this rests on the fact that he was of the English recusant mindset that refused to attend Anglican services and was intent on maintaining Roman Catholic identity. In Phillips’s case, this meant leaving England for reasons of faith and ensconcing himself at the English College in Rome. Aside from answering at one point to a plot against Elizabeth (for which he was cleared) the remainder of his career was spent on the continent, particularly in the northern climes of the Netherlands.

He is normally considered a conservative musically, though even this term must be taken with a grain of salt as so much was going on during this time in the church music world. These motets, or Sacred Canticles as they are called, are taken from the Roman breviary and set as a chronological succession of saint’s feast days beginning with Christmas and going forward. The music is all five-part, with two sopranos, alto, tenor, and baritone, though the music is also very much antiphonal in nature, and Phillips does a remarkable job of mixing the parts so that we are presented with ever-new combinations of sound that keep things interesting.

Because they are meant for saint feast days they are also celebratory in nature, making the entire disc one of upbeat declamation. The various pieces are also short enough that the attention is continually being renewed; making for an enjoyable hour or so, though of course the music would never have been heard in this manner. Richard Marlow is an old and established hand at this kind of thing, as is his excellent Trinity College Choir. Chandos has learned to tame its formerly-feared reverberate sound, and what we get is clear and vivid.

– Steven Ritter




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