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David Skinner: Thomas Tomkins – These Distracted Times (FLAC)

David Skinner: Thomas Tomkins - These Distracted Times (FLAC)

David Skinner: Thomas Tomkins – These Distracted Times (FLAC)

Composer: Thomas Tomkins
Performer: Fretwork, Jamal Sutton, Alamire, Choir of Sidney Sussex College
Conductor: David Skinner
Format: FLAC (tracks)
Label: Obsidian
Catalogue: CCLCD702
Release: 2007
Size: 305 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: cover

01. Pavan No. 1
02. Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom
03. Hear My Prayer, O Lord, & With Thine Ears
04. The Heavens Declare
05. The 5th Service: Te Deum
06. A Fancy
07. The 5th Service: Jubilate
08. O Lord, How Manifold Are Thy Works
09. Pavan No. 7
10. I heard a voice from heaven
11. The 5th Service: Magnificat
12. Pavan “For These Distracted Times”
13. The 5th Service: Nunc dimittis
14. Pavan No. 8
15. Remember Me, O Lord
16. When David Heard
17. I will lift up mine eyes

Thomas Tomkins is a Renaissance-era English composer best known for his keyboard works such as Pavan for These Distracted Times and choral music such as The Great Service and his Funeral Sentences. Tomkins lived in distracted times indeed; in 1649, the head of his beloved monarch, Charles I, came down upon a pile of straw with a headsman’s single stroke, and Tomkins’ mournful Pavan has forever associated his music with the ill-fated regent. The not numerous single discs devoted to Tomkins’ music often feature one of the many portraits of Charles I on the cover, but English label Obsidian — not to be confused with the Australian black metal label of the same name — breaks precedent with its Thomas Tomkins: These Distracted Times in using a picture of Oliver Cromwell — the bad guy in Tomkins’ view — on its front. This disc features the vocal group Alamire — the main, in-house artist at Obsidian — serving as soloists in the vocal works and backed by the Choir of Sidney Sussex, Cambridge, as led by David Skinner. To provide passages of purely instrumental music between vocal pieces, the eminent viol consort Fretwork pitches in some pavans and the famous one is played by organist Jamal Sutton.

As a single-disc survey of Tomkins’ music, this is very good, although the very sobriety of the album as a whole works against it at times; even pieces that are “happy” sound sad. Alamire’s bass Robert MacDonald beautifully delivers the low voice incipits at the beginnings of certain anthems, but the Choir of Sidney Sussex — though again, very good — is an ordinary church choir; it lacks the pure tone and transcendence of the best early music vocal groups. Admittedly, the choir’s slightly unfocused tone is probably more stylistically appropriate medium for Tomkins music anyway, and those attuned to more common forms of choral singing will find this aspect no barrier. However, the unleavened feeling of grief that pervades the whole album makes it a bit of a tough go, and it is better taken in smaller doses. That said, Thomas Tomkins: These Distracted Times is an extremely promising release from the new company; in terms of production and packaging, it has just about everything right, and this definitely gives listeners devoted to early music something to look forward to in terms of its productions.

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