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GRAMOPHONE (09/2020)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow

The name of this album may be familiar. Used by the Dunedin Consort for their release in 2003 with Delphian, it refers to a quotation from Thomas Morley’s treatise of 1597 that singers ‘ought to study how to vowel and sing clean, expressing their words with devotion and passion whereby to draw the hearer, as it were, in chains of gold by the ears to the consideration of holy things’. It’s an enticing image and one that the Magdalena Consort most certainly live up to in their second instalment of English Pre-Restoration verse anthems. The vowel sounds – and this is a sentence I never thought I would write – are thrilling. The diphthonged synchronicity of ‘power’ and ‘ire’ are a thing of beauty (though some consonants are perhaps a tad combative and over-Oxbridged in chapel-choir diction). The intonation and blend against the glistening strings of Fretwork are second to none.

There is a danger that such an album numbs its listeners with homogeneity of beauty: this is something that the album’s artistic director William Hunt has expertly prepared to combat. Most welcome are the pungent sounds of the ‘Tudor organ’ dazzlingly played by Silas Wollston. Byrd’s Fantasia No 46 is skilfully paced, and Wollston’s performance commands our patience as he refuses to hurry into bravura. The gloriously prominent mechanics of the ‘wondrous machine’ – the organ’s clicking and breath – heightens Wollston’s athletic fingerwork and oxygenated rhetoric. Then when the buzzy brass of His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts emerge in Byrd’s Look and bow down, the singers are bathed in bronzed majesty. This is music-making of the highest calibre, steeped in emotional intelligence and affective balance.

Booklet notes by Andrew Johnstone and William Hunt crown the disc with excellent musicological detail.

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