Monday, December 26, 2011

The Canby Singers – O Great Mystery

Renaissance vocal polyphony is great part of Europe’s musical tradition. Blossomed out of mediaeval church traditions and ars nova ideas, gradually liberating and complicating all the way to exceed borders of subordination of religious and external to music meanings, 16th century polyphony remains highest achievement in counterpoint and characteristic element of early music sound. More freedom to perfect counterpoint of renaissance gave baroque when all polyphonic resources has been used in various musical contexts and not always consequently.  
There are hundreds of fantastic choirs and vocal groups interpreting ancient a cappella music. Every year shows new groups not just singing renaissance repertoire but searching for new principles of interpreting early music in most flexible way, in accordance to historic manners and in compatibility with today sensitivity. One of choirs with more than half century lasting tradition is The Canby Singers. Founded in 1957 by Edward Tatnall Canaby choir is known for its perfection and notable achievements in the field of choral music. The repertoire of Canaby Singers covers wide range of styles from medieval songs to works of contemporary composers so the choir is well known for its versatility.

The Canaby Singers – O Great Mystery

One of greates achievements of The Canby Singers was recorded for Nonesuch set of a cappella compositions for Christmas O Great Mystery – Unaccompanied Choral Music of the 16th & 17th centuries (H-1026). The main part of this set is loose presentation of early Christmas hymns. Especially three opening tracks are compositions to the same Latin hymnal text O magnum misterium – set by two Spanish renaissance composers Tomas Luis de Victoria, Cristóbal de Morales and English composer William Byrd. Some more Christmas tunes came from Francisco Guerrero Canite tuba in Sion and old carol Resonet in laudibus in new setting by Edward Tatnall Canby and ancient one by Orlando di Lasso. Archaic sound of this selections gives background to changes depicted in next chapter of European musical culture.
While the A-side has been placed in roman catholic and anti-reformation tradition, the B-side of the record is quite different in ideas and in style. Opposite side presents composers from the protestant and secular music circles and resulting various cultural traditions in compositions set to lyrics in various languages. Protestant church music is represented by Flemish composer Hubert Waelrant’s Musiciens qui chantez à plaisir and three works by German composers of late renaissance and early baroque eras Selig sind die Toten by Heinrich Schütz, Mein Schifflein life im wilden Meer by Johann Herman Schein and Ihr Lieben, wir sind nun Gottes Kinder by Melchior Franck. Here are still in this set two works by Counter-Reformation compositor Jacob Handl – O admirable commercium and Mirabile mysterium.
Selection ends with master of secular polyphony Claudio Monteverdi. His madrigal Sfogava con le stelle gives a chance to see the title subject more in musical than religious context. The ambition of such program was clearly the idea of observing music in context of its cultural background. Half century after creating this album, this conception is still inspiring and gives us one more level for decoding the meaning of mysteries in culture.

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