The Sarum Consort, Andrew Mackay, Peter Philips: Cantiones Sacrae Quinis et Octonibus Vocibus

Steve Holtje

By Steve Holtje

on 01.13.12 in Reviews
Sacred choral music filled with Philips’s settings of Latin texts

Peter Philips was one of the greatest English composers of the Tudor era, but since it wasn’t a favorable time to be a Roman Catholic in England, he spent most of his adult life in Rome, Antwerp and Brussels, with his church work coming in Catholic contexts. Thus, this album of sacred choral music is filled with his settings of Latin texts (“Pater noster,” “Media vita,” “Salve Regina,” etc.) rather than English anthems. The 20 selections are from a 1612 publication of 69 five-part motets and a 30-motet set for eight voices from 1613; some of the motets received their first recordings at this 2000 session. Philips’s style is one of quiet dignity, but some of the more celebratory motets (such as the Easter anthem “Christus resurgens”) are rhythmically lively, and he uses enough different techniques that there’s a pleasing variety of textures on display. The Sarum Consort’s singers have light voices, though the female sopranos in this mixed ensemble have more than enough vibrato to not be confused with choirboys. All eight singers demonstrate impeccable intonation and gently effervescent energy. On 12 tracks, an unobtrusive three-stop chamber organ (played by Nigel Gardner) accompanies the singers, adding a little more variety of timbre.