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William MUNDY (c.1529-1591)
Sacred Choral Music 
Beatus et sanctus [2:07]
Maria virgo sanctissima * [14:58]
Alleluia. Per te Dei genitrix I* [2:37]
Sive vigilem [2:39]
Alleluia. Per te Dei genitrix II* [3:15]
Vox patris cŠlestis [17:21]
Adolescentulus sum ego [4:57]
John SHEPPARD (1515-1558), William BYRD (1539/40-1623), William MUNDY
In exitu Israel [17:17]
* premiere recordings
Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh/Duncan Ferguson
rec. 2016/17, St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh
Texts and translations included.
DELPHIAN DCD34204 [65:15]

William Mundy is not nowadays considered one of the big names of English Renaissance church music, such as Taverner, Tallis or Byrd, but he was highly esteemed in his own time. He lived through the most tumultuous period in English religious history, starting with the change from the Latin to the English rite under Edward VI, going on to the restoration of the Latin rite under Mary and the return to the English rite under Elizabeth I. The changes were not simply those of language but of musical style as well: the florid writing of early Tudor composers, with the frequent use of melismas (several notes to a syllable) was disapproved of by Protestants, who wanted their English words to be clearly audible to the congregations, and so preferred more straightforward settings with one note to syllable. Mundy complied with these requirements but one has the feeling that he was happiest with the style in which he had been brought up, which is represented to some extent in all the works here, with, Latin words and, mostly, the more elaborate musical idiom.

We begin with Beatus et sanctus, setting Revelation 20:6 in a relatively straightforward idiom without melismas. This is easy to follow and a good introduction to his music. We then have Maria virgo sanctissima, a hymn in praise of the Virgin Mary, a characteristically Catholic as opposed to Protestant production by an unknown writer. This had been considered unperformable, as the tenor part is lacking in the set of part-books which contains it. However, scholars are often now able to supply such missing parts, and here we have it completed by Magnus Williamson. This is the first recording of this completion. It is a long work and full of variety, a worthy companion to Vox patris cŠlestis, Mundy’s best-known work and also on this disc.

Next are two settings of an Alleluia, which followed the Gradual which was sung between the epistle and gospel readings at Mass. Here it is Per te Dei genitrix for the Eastertide Lady Mass. These are alternatim settings, i.e. ones which alternate polyphonic verses with plainsong ones. The contrast between with the wonderfully creamy and rich polyphony with the plainer but still beautiful plainsong is part of the aesthetic effect of these settings. Again these are premiere recordings. The Advent motet Sive vigilem again shows Mundy moving between styles with both homophonic writing, in which the voices move together, as well as polyphony.

The text for Vox patris cŠlestis has been argued by John Milsom to have been written by William Forrest (fl. 1530–81), who was both a priest and a musician. He probably wrote it for Mary Tudor following her proclamation as Queen of England in July 1553. The text treats of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary, again a very Catholic idea, rejected by Protestants but popular with those who had not been persuaded by the new version of the faith. This begins with two voices but expands to a wonderfully rich and elaborate work, one of the last and most splendid of the votive antiphons before the simplifications required by Reform.

Adulescentulus sum ego sets a passage from the long Psalm 118 in the Vulgate numbering (119 in the Prayer Book). This was a popular source for psalm settings at the time, with examples also from White and Parsons. This moves in the direction of the later, simpler idiom but is nevertheless quite rich in texture, and of course in its continued use of Latin.

In exitu Israel, a setting of Psalm 113 in the Vulgate numbering (114 and 115 in the Prayer Book) is, unusually, a collaborative work in which Mundy worked with his older contemporary Sheppard and his younger contemporary Byrd. No explanation is given for the collaboration but I suspect that the piece was needed in a hurry, again to celebrate the accession of Queen Mary. Again this is an alternatim setting; one is not aware of the three different hands involved – or four, including the plainsong – and the work comes over as an integrated whole.

The Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral under the direction of Duncan Ferguson has been receiving glowing reviews for their previous recordings and this one deserves no less. This is a choir with both male and female choristers taking the treble line and their security, confidence and tonal lustre is a great pleasure, particularly in the plainsong passages. The fuller textures are no less admirably done and the whole disc gives great pleasure. Add to that a fine recording in a warm but not over-resonant acoustic, excellent notes by Ferguson himself (in English only) and Latin texts with (modern) English translations.

This appears to be only the second disc devoted entirely to Mundy to have been issued, though some of his pieces, notably Vox patris cŠlestis, appear in a number of mixed programmes. Its predecessor was recorded by The Sixteen, an adult choir with women on the top line, under Harry Christophers in 1988 and is still available on the Hyperion Helios label (CDH55086). This contains both Latin and English works and has a few overlaps with the present disc. It is an admirable disc; fans will want this new one as well and I recommend it to all who love this repertoire. I hope the choir have opportunities to perform these works liturgically.

Stephen Barber

Previous review: Brian Wilson


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