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American Record Guide: (07/2017) 
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Reviewer: William J. Gatens


This is the second recording from the vocal ensemble Contrapunctus of music from the Baldwin Partbooks, a source now in the library of Christ Church, Oxford. John Baldwin (d 1615) was a lay clerk at St George’s Chapel, Windsor and later a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He compiled his partbooks from 1575 to 1581. His purpose appears to have been the preservation of outstanding examples of Latin church music that had become liturgically obsolete after the English Reformation. The books contain nearly 170 works from a broad chronological swath of English composition from the generation of Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521) to living composers like William Byrd. Some of the pieces are pieces that survive in no other sources. That is the case with the Tallis Magnificat here.


The plan for the series is for each disc to contain music on a specific devotional theme, the compositions representing the chronological range of Baldwin’s collection. The first volume, “In the Midst of Life” (Signum 408; J/A 2015) was on the subject of death. The present recording is on Marian devotion. There was an exceptionally rich tradition of such devotion in England before the Reformation. Composers produced lengthy and elaborate settings of votive antiphons like Tallis’s ‘Gaude Gloriosa’ and ‘Ave Dei Patris Filia’ by Fayrfax. Large-scale office responsories like Tallis’s ‘Videte Miraculum’ and ‘Verbum Caro’ by John Sheppard were another important genre. Several shorter but no less glorious pieces are included here.


I was highly impressed with the first recording in the series, and this new one maintains the high standard. The sound is sumptuous but clear. The vocal blend and ensemble precision are outstanding, and director Owen Rees delivers performances that convey a keen sense of forward movement and coherence. Owen Rees is director of music at The Queen’s College, Oxford. The ensemble Contrapunctus was founded in 2010 particularly for the study and performance of polyphony. 12 singers are listed, but they do not all sing in every selection.


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