Tonus Peregrinus are
getting quite a name for themselves. They have been concentrating
on medieval and renaissance music. Yet as their conductor is the
ever-energetic Antony Pitts it’s not surprising that they have
recently released a fine disc of music by him on Hyperion. On
the present CD he is again featured as a composer and more especially
as an arranger. In this he is joined by his brothers and by Alexander
L’Estrange also known as a fine arranger of choral music.
The background to
this collection is unique feel and needs some explanation. For
the original 1623 publication, Gibbons, in setting texts by George
Wither, with whom he collaborated, only wrote the melody and the
bass line. Why? Because he took it for granted that musicians
would be adding the inner parts by improvising or by following
fairly well oiled rules. In other words the composer, in one sense,
only did half the job. It is up to musicians performing this music
to make their own contributions. That is what is happening here.
Anthony Pitts and Alexander L’Estrange have made their contributions.
As Pitts tells us in his booklet notes he has approached the task
in three different ways. I quote: “We have adopted a variety of
approaches from unadorned melody via pastiche to exuberantly post-modern
counterpoint”. He adds later “The new hymns by L’Estrange, myself
and two of my younger brothers, serve both to vary the palette
and to show the continuing influence of Hymns and Songs of
the Church on hymn-writing today.”
You might think that
there is a curious and somewhat bizarre nepotism going on here
but an explanation can be made with regard to the eight different
A-mens which end each of the sections listed in the header. Pitts
tells us that that at the family home “the A-men was and is sung
with ad hoc harmonies by my family at the end of grace
before mealtimes”. I wish they would invite me to dinner! So,
all the Pitts boys are composers. Therefore why not, if you run
a fine choir creatively involve your family?
Yet it should be emphasized
that what makes this disc so fascinating, for me anyway, is that
it is a collaboration, a holding of hands across the centuries
between Orlando Gibbons and four young British composers. The
music is performed by a fine group of 21st Century
young singers of real talent and commitment. It’s the freshness
of the singing that attracts me even in what could be considered
a somewhat cerebral project. In all of their discs the choir radiates
a real sense of discovery and thrill. They achieve this even when
the interpretation may be a little suspect as for example the
recent recording of Adam de La Halle’s Le Jeu de Robin et de
Marion (Naxos 8.557377). Of course Anthony Pitts’ scholarship
and exciting sense of discovery spills over into the singing.
When they are called together for a new project there must be
a real feeling of ‘What we will be doing next?’
The organ pieces were
recorded at Finchcocks: the home for clapped out and rejuvenated
keyboards. Pitts used a 1766 chamber organ with a most charming
village church breathiness about it.
All texts are given
alongside photographs and biographies of the performers. Anthony
Pitts has also provided a most detailed and interesting description
of each section of the CD. There he discusses not only the individual
pieces but also the theological basis behind each section, how
they are balanced in the full context and how he came to construct
Despite my enthusiasm
I will not be playing this disc all that often. The new pieces
are in many ways the most successful. Especially affecting to
my mind was There is a Greenhill by Antony Pitts, although
what possessed him to assemble Come unto me with its crawling
harmonies I cannot say.
Songs of joy
01 Prelude [Orlando Gibbons arr. A.Pitts) [Song 1] 0'43"
02 A Song of Joy/Christmas Day (Orlando Gibbons arr.
A.Pitts) Songs 47/46 3'33"
03 The Song of Angels (Orlando Gibbons
arr. A.Pitts) Song 34 0'45"
04 Interlude (Orlando Gibbons) [Song 13] 0'22"
05 Thine for ever (Antony Pitts) 1'29"
06 Amen 0'22"
Songs of love
07 The First Canticle (Orlando Gibbons
arr. A.Pitts) Song 9 2'18"
08 The Fifth Canticle (Orlando Gibbons arr. A.Pitts) Song 13
09 The Sixth Canticle (Orlando Gibbons
arr. A.Pitts) Song 14 4'11"
10 The Tenth Canticle (Orlando Gibbons arr. A.Pitts) Song 18 1'29"
11 Thy way, not mine (John Michael Pitts) 2'01"
12 Amen 0'23"
Songs of sacrifice
13 There is a green hill far away (Antony
14 Interlude [There is a green hill] (Antony Pitts) 0'51"
15 Take my life (Orlando Gibbons arr.
A.Pitts) [Song 13] 3'54"
16 Amen 0'24"
Songs of lamentation
17 Lord, who by thy perfect offering (Antony
18 Lamentation 1 (Orlando Gibbons arr.
A.L'Estrange) Song 24 4'41"
19 The Lamentation of David (Orlando Gibbons
arr. A.L'Estrange) 2'33"
20 As now the sun’s declining rays (Alexander
21 Amen 0'30"
Songs of triumph
22 The First Song of Moses (Orlando Gibbons arr. A.Pitts) Song
23 Lord, who b thy Resurrection (Antony
24 The Song of Hannah (Orlando Gibbons arr. A.Pitts) Song 4
25 The Song of Deborah (Orlando Gibbons
arr. A.Pitts) Song 3 2'20"
26 O Lord Most High (Richard James Pitts)
27 Amen 0'23"
Songs of unity
28 Veni Creator (Orlando Gibbons arr. A.Pitts) Song 44
29 St. Matthias (Orlando Gibbons arr.
A.Pitts) Song 67 0'56"
30 Veni Creator (Orlando Gibbons arr. A.Pitts) Song 44
31 We are of thee (Orlando Gibbons arr.
A.Pitts) [Song1] 1'39"
32 Hark, my soul (Antony Pitts) 2'06"
33 Amen 0'22"
Songs of faith
34 Come Unto me (Antony Pitts) 2'27"
35 The Second Prayer of Isaiah (Orlando
Gibbons arr. A.Pitts) Song 20 0'44"
36 The Prayer of Habakuk (Orlando Gibbons arr. A.Pitts) Song 31
37 Interlude (Orlando Gibbons arr. A.Pitts) [Song 13] 1'07"
38 The Song of the three children (Orlando Gibbons arr. A.L'Estrange)
Song 41 1'56"
39 Amen 0'22"
Songs of hope
40 Miserere Domine (Antony Pitts) 1'50"
41 The Prayer of Hezekiah (Orlando Gibbons
arr. A.Pitts) Song 22 1'22"
42 Amen 0'24"