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Christopher TYE (c.1505-1573)
Cathedral Music:-
Kyrie 'Orbis Factor'; Mass 'Euge Bone'; Motets; Quaesumus omnipotens Deus; Misere mei, Deus; Omnes gentes, plaudite manibus; Peccavimus cum patribus nostris

The Choir of Winchester Cathedral/David Hill
Rec Winchester Cathedral March 1990
HYPERION CDH55079 [64.38]
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This CD comes in Hyperion's Helios collection. These are emerging at about 3 a month, and it is quite an interesting game of guesswork to decide which of Hyperion's back catalogue will be re-released. I hadn't expected Christopher Tye I must say, but then I should have done.

'CD Review' said of the disc: "A perfect introduction to Tye's sacred music" and the Gramophone "What a marvellous composer, and what a performance", yes indeed. The Winchester is a very top choir especially in this repertoire. A recent release of theirs has been of Tallis's Missa Salve intemerata (Hyperion 67207), which is equally fine.

There is spirited singing here and with superb intonation and fantastic life. Tye's music benefits from this 'up front' approach. Much of the mass is joyous and in a bright major tonality; the power of the boys is especially telling in the Gloria and the Sanctus. There is a major key feel, not surprisingly, to the joyous motet 'Omnes gentes' (Psalm 47).

As a choirboy myself I seem to recall singing simple Tye anthems in English such as 'O Come ye servants of the Lord' and 'Christ rising again' in cheap editions anthologised by the R.S.C.M. but the composer did not find this style totally conducive. In 1560, in his mid-50s, and now in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, he was ordained and seems to have stopped writing large-scale church music. He turned instead to instrumental works and especially to the 'In Nomine' for viol consort, written possibly from the late 1520s to 1550s. The 1520s may be the date of the mass but stylistically it seems more likely to be a date in the mid-1540s, during the reign of Edward VI, when Tye could have submitted his mass as part of his degree of Mus.D. at Cambridge. Tye was rather a favourite of the King whose early death seems to have affected the furtherance of his career. This information comes from the excellent CD notes by Andrew Parker who says a great deal about the composer but rather less about the music, which is a little frustrating.

Tye has left us three masses. One, 'The Western Wind Mass' was recorded in 1982 by New College Oxford on CRD 1105 and is worth tracking down. It is most certainly strongly influenced by Taverner, with its soloistic sections and melismatic lines. The 'Euge Bone' in 6 parts, although a festive mass, is not in the massive choral style of his older contemporaries like Taverner and Ashwell, or the Eton Choirbook masters. It is shorter and plainer. The Kyrie 'Orbis Factor' is a separate piece but surprisingly has one or two very ornate passages reminding me of Taverner or Browne. It is a highly original composition for its date. There are several simple homophonic sections i.e., the beginning of the Sanctus, and the Agnus dei (which for some reason has an extra petition) with its beautifully floating melody, just the sort of thing to please the Protestant king. It is also more typical of later Tudor music by Mundy or even Byrd. Remembering that Tye is contemporary of John Shepherd, then Tye's music appears rather modern in comparison with Shepherd's equivalent Latin antiphons .

The motet 'Peccavimus cum patribus' in 9 parts, is the longest single work on the disc, and at over 13 minutes is Tye's masterpiece. It may be related to the recorded mass and is probably an early work (c.1528).

It is a tour-de-force for the men who sing without a break. The boys however have breaks within the structure and their contribution increases as the work reaches its climax. "Pour into our hearts thy most holy love …. and a burning desire for the heavenly kingdom, and let thine almighty goodness make them grow more and more." New College Oxford on the same CRD disc mentioned above also recorded this motet, and their faster pace gives a better overall view of its structure.

To sum up. This is a fine disc, the music is attractive and the polyphony never too impenetrable or over long. The singing is first class. Although the boys sound little tired, at the end of a recording session possibly, in the 'Peccavimus', this is by no means a drawback. Anyone who likes English polyphony should get this CD which is most attractively priced.

Gary Higginson

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